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IN THE GARDEN: Plants need the cold; clever killdeer


A killdeer. Read more about this tiny trickster below.

Brrrr! It’s cold out there. Winter is a necessity for many plants. The colder weather provides for winter stratification, vernalization, and chilling hours.

Let’s start with winter stratification. This action is important to many of our wildflowers. Some seeds are in an embryonic dormancy — as babies, they sleep until awakened. The cold dampness of our winters awakens these seeds. The moisture and cold soften the seed shell to break its dormancy; thus, informing the seeds that it is time to germinate.

Vernalization is another sleep-time story. For instance, bulbs use three different seasons for growth. In the warm/hot season, flower bulbs are formed. When the weather cools in fall, root growth is accelerated. But in the wintertime during vernalization, the stems lengthen and extend. If bulbs miss these three growth spurts, the result may be clumps of dwarfed flowers.

Thirdly, chilling hours: This stage is imperative to our fruit trees. Certain fruits require a different number of chilling hours. When the cool temperatures arrive, our fruit trees will go dormant. This dormancy protects the buds and foliage from damage. Oddly, this signal is hormonal. Yes, trees have hormones. Then, once the tree has acquired its personal chilling hours for that species, the dormancy breaks and the buds are ready to grow.

Nature continues to work even in its sleep.


Because of this bird’s name, we thought it apropos for the conclusion of rutting season. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, get their name because of the sound they make: a shrill killdeer

Although shore birds, they nest in fields, lawns, and sometimes roofs. To protect their nests, these clever plovers are tricksters. For instance, If the predator is smaller than a cow, they will pretend their wing is broken and lead the possible predator away from the nesting area. However, these tricksters will do anything to protect their young. If the nesting area is in a field and a cow approaches, a killdeer will puff up, raise its tail above its head, and charge the cloven to get the beast to change its path.

You can recognize killdeer by their spurting action across grass. They run quick short distances and stop abruptly, almost as if they are startling the invertebrates they are foraging. The males can be identified by the two black breast bands across their white chests.

Till next time. Keep your souls and soles in your garden! Remember the True Master Gardener: Jesus said, “I am the vine; my Father is the Gardener.” John 15:1

“In the Garden” is written by daughter-father gardening team Martelle and Bill Luedecke. If you have gardening questions, contact Martelle at 512-769-3179 or or Bill at 512-577-1463 or