Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter Interest in the Home Bug Garden

Cattails and rushes adding interest to a winter landscape
As the Home Bug Garden has become re-enwhitened over the last few weeks, and the illusion of a short, mild winter went the way of other illusions, the 'winter interest' in the Garden has again come to be appreciated. In general, it can be difficult to distinguish between winter interest and lazy gardening, but in a naturalistic garden one does want to look, well, natural.
'Winter interest' is also known as dead plants
Snow is a very good insulator (think igloo). If a thick enough layer of insulating snow (10-20 cm) develops then, no matter what the temperature of the air, the temperature under the snow stabilizes near freezing - warm enough for the decomposers in the soil to continue to work all winter. The vegetation under the snow becomes the food of the subniveal (under-snow) fungi, bacteria, arthropods, and worms. Although we don't see it, a significant portion of the carbon budget in boreal systems is processed under the snow during what looks like a period of dormancy.
Winter interest on its way to decomposition
But what sticks out above the snow gives some structure to the garden and some interest to all those who live above the layer of snow (I suppose that would be the 'supraniveal' fauna). This afternoon I noticed some of our winter interest falling, stalk by stalk. A White-tailed Jackrabbit was working through the remains of last year's Rough Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides). Well, better that than the cherries (unfortunately hares love cherry twigs). When the snow melts, all the little rabbit pellets that were once 'winter interest' will join the decomposer system too. I suppose that is better than a spring clean-up and lugging to the compost bin.
Large wings and small feet meet in the snow


  1. Great jackrabbit photos, Dave! The portrait is much better than any I've managed to get of these winter-interest consumers.

  2. Send that bunny over to my place when it's done, ours are not so helpful!

  3. You are welcome to all you want. In spite of the local coyote population, we have a lot of jackrabbits. They seem to love the twigs of non-thorny Rosaceae and are pretty hard on cherries, saskatoons, and ornamental crabs until they get too tall to snip.