Sunday, January 2, 2011

Frozen Water

The recent snow in Atlanta was delightful.  It was enough to be beautiful and not too much to be bothersome.  As the cold weather lingered on, snow remained on much of the ground, especially in the shadier areas like my side of the street. When the snow melted, it slowly soaked the ground much like a light rain would do.  Liquid or frozen, it’s all good when it comes to water that feeds the environment.

Georgia depends on winter and spring rains to recharge soil moisture, groundwater, rivers and streams.   Groundwater – an interesting concept, learn more about it here
– is the water beneath the soil’s surface, water which resides in soil pore spaces and the fractures of rock formations.  For those of us that live in areas with clay soil, the soil pore spaces are smaller and the water drains through them more slowly (allowing the plants to benefit from it longer!) Sandy soil, by contrast, has larger pore spaces, allowing the water to drain through much faster.  Given the choice of the two, I'd have to pick clay soil over sandy - I love the way my soil holds water.  Here a patch of moss plumps up in response to the snow melt.

The drought of recent years (2008-09) is not far enough away for me to forget it.  As a gardener and a supporter of native plants and natural environments, it was a very painful time.  Throw in what it did to businesses that grow plants (and food) and it was even more painful.  Some nurseries went out of business as people bought fewer plants during the water restrictions.  Memberships in plant societies dropped – I would guess that about 25% of my own native plant society’s membership did not renew during that time.  However, we gained a few new members that were interested in how native plants might fare BETTER than non-natives in a drought environment.

Plants like this Hazel Alder (Alnus serrulata) that I spotted on my snowy walk. The dangling structures are the staminate flower catkins, the “cones” are from last year’s fruit.  Despite the cold and the snow, this plant is on track to flower in late winter.
Alnus serrulata

No one likes severe weather events - but we get them occasionally.  The 13 inches of snow in March 1993 were no fun, and the 20+ inches of rain in September 2009 caused a lot of property damage.  But cloudy days (which slow up transpiration, the evaporation of water from plants) and drizzly days make me happy.  Throw in a decent shower and I am over the moon …  But as those used to more snowfall know, two inches of slowly melting snow provide good direct moisture for plants versus the same amount of rain that might be partially lost to runoff (although to be fair, a good portion could make it into groundwater regardless).  Here a pine seedling benefits from the melting snow.

So if a little precipitation comes your way, enjoy it as best you can. Yes, it might be inconvenient and it might mess up your hair ... but it is the essence of life for the plants that sustain us.  Oh, and sometimes it makes really cool ice caterpillars!

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