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The Winter Solstice

Saturday December 21st 2013 is the Winter Solstice and marks the turning point in the length of our days and nights, with sunset due at 3:53pm according to BBC Weather.

The Winter Solstice And Its Impact On The Garden

The Winter Solstice is important for gardeners as it reminds us that our plants are affected by the changing seasons, by the length of the day time and night time. Plants growing in areas where major temperature changes occur during the year, and where cold winters are typical, need to be able to tell when the seasons are changing so that they can prepare for the changes. Plants do this in two ways – by measuring the hours of darkness that occur in a 24 hour period and by measuring how much cold they have experienced.

How Plants Adapt To Season Changes

The effect of seasonal changes on plants was first researched back in the early 1900s. It was at this time that the term photoperiodism was used to describe how plants are affected by the changes in length of light and darkness.

In the 1920s workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that some plants were affected by the relative length of light to dark in a day. Plants that would only flower when exposed to short day lengths and long night lengths (typical of winter days) were called ‘short-day’ plants – plants typical of this group include chrysanthemums, poinsettias, Christmas cactuses and kalanchoes.

Plants that flower when exposed to long days and short nights are known as ‘long-day plants’ and include plants such as spinach and radish.

It was also found that there was a third type of plant – termed ‘day neutral’ plants which are not affected by the length of day or night. Examples of these plants include cucumbers, tomatoes and roses.

The length of light and darkness not only affects plants and when they flower or fruit, it can also affect how a plant will react and prepare itself for the different seasons. A good example of this is shown by shade trees. Shade trees are grown specifically for the shade they provide – so generally they are large trees with spreading canopies, such as oaks, maples, ashes and elms. Shade trees prepare themselves for the winter months by dropping their leaves in mid to late November – even if the temperatures are not that cold these trees will still shed their leaves as they know winter is on its way because of the length of daylight and darkness.

Plants Are Remarkable . . .

So, the winter solstice should remind us of simply how remarkable plants are. They are able to sense the world around them and respond to it without the intervention of the gardener – and can react to changes in ways gardeners are unaware of. Simply remarkable!

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