As of today, woolly hats have replaced sunglasses! Winter has returned, bringing with it freezing temperatures and making life tough for many creatures and plants. For example, consider the ubiquitous lesser fox butterfly. The earliest specimens, which were already on the move as spring heralds, might now be caught off guard. They were awoken by the moderate temperatures and the first warm rays of sunlight after sleeping away the winter months in frost-free hiding spots. However, the brightly coloured butterflies and other early flyers are now at risk of freezing to death.
Not all animals have “built-in” antifreeze
Other insects, such as the majority of wild bees that are already active, are (nearly) unharmed by the late frost. The reason is that they have their own “antifreeze,” which they employ to reduce their body’s freezing point and thereby enter winter torpor – even if they have already hatched from their nests and flown away. In this blog article, we describe how this works in detail.
“Many wild bee enthusiasts are increasingly concerned about their adolescent bees in nesting boxes. But we can reassure them: wild bees are quite hardy and can withstand periods of frost with ease “Yannick Schauwecker, our wild bee expert, explains.
Nonetheless, when temperatures “play yoyo,” forcing wild bees to alternate between activity and dormancy numerous times in succession, it finally wears down their vigour.
Yannick Schauwecker suggests filling the garden or balcony with a variety of (ideally sturdy) early-flowering plants to enable the young hummers to replenish their batteries. The insects will seize on this all-you-can-eat buffet after surviving the chilly shock. You can locate appropriate plants here.
Birds, on the other hand, respond extremely differently to the late-winter chill. Some migratory species that are slow to migrate, such as cranes, may finally start off for the warmer south. Those who have just been intensively courting thus far – but have yet to be successful – will instead embark on another laborious hunt for nourishment when the cold and winter arrive.
The late cold, on the other hand, is especially harsh on early breeding couples. If the young birds have already arrived, a fast arrival of winter with snow and frozen rivers might soon prove disastrous!
This is why, when there is a layer of snow and permafrost, having bird food on the balcony and in the yard comes in handy.
Garden plants are protected from the cold by a layer of leaves
What about the plants in the garden? They are content with an insulating covering of leaves. Yannick Schauwecker, a garden and plant specialist, recommends:
“In autumn, just leaving fallen leaves beneath shrubs and on beds protects your plants from frostbite.” Cold-sensitive potted plants, such as basil, should be moved to a frost-free location or protected with a plant bag.
If you don’t have a plant bag on hand, simply place a jute bag or fleece over the plants.
Frost damage during the flowering season, by the way, is a total nightmare for fruit farmers. Fruit cannot be produced by frozen flowers. The tree is unharmed, but the fruit farmer may incur a crop loss. And that is something that should be avoided at all costs, especially this year.
The issue remains: how often are late-winter storms in general?
In our neighbouring nation Germany, the last major advent of winter in April, with up to half a metre of snow in the lowlands, occurred six years ago.
However, in the early 1980s, there was snow around (and even after) Easter two years in a row: on April 25, 1980, there was a 13-centimetre thick snow cover in Munich – but without a lengthy warm spell prior. This late in the year, flakes dropped on the North Sea almost precisely one year later. On April 23, 1981, three cm of snow fell in St. Peter-Ording.
According to some weather scientists, a late winter might be expected every 10 years. The good news for humans and animals is that, after the late jitters, the warm spring light finally arrives!
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