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How Will Plants and Insects Fare After the Polar Vortex?

Extension Master Gardener

We’ve just endured a polar vortex, which brought wind chills approaching -60F to some parts of Iowa. As the state begins to defrost, it would be nice to think this extreme cold could be a setback for some of our least favorite invasive insects—but will it impact our beloved plants, too? 

On this horticulture day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with entomologist Donald Lewis and horticulturists Richard Jauron and Chris Currey about whether the unusually chilly weather will impact plants and insects. Then, Currey shares tips for raising orchids in climate controlled homes.

Unfortunately, the recent cold will not make any difference in insect populations when spring arrives.

"I think there's a lot of wishful thinking," Lewis says. "Insects that live in freezing temperatures are adapted to survive those temperatures."

However, insects traditionally have lower populations in spring than in fall, which is likely to be true again this year.

In terms of plants, Jauron says that we may not get a sense of how this cold snap has impacted trees and shrubs until they begin leafing out in April and early May. But as snow melts this weekend, check younger trees and shrubs for damage from rabbits and mice, who may have eaten bark down to the wood in an effort to stay warm. 

If you're looking for a plant to brighten up your home in the midst of this dreary winter, Currey recommends orchids. 

"They're a captivating crop," Currey says. "[They] don't really need as much specialized care as you might think."