59January 13, 2016

I was wondering how the changing weather might affect our spring. We go from warm temperatures for a length of time and then go to cold temperatures for a bit of time. How does this affect our trees, shrubs and perennials?

About a week ago, I noticed that a magnolia tree had flower buds that were very swollen. The extended warm weather has made this tree think that spring is coming soon. If we go to severe cold, will the buds be killed by the cold weather? I’m not sure but it is a worry for me. Some customers have reported the same thing with their spring flowering shrubs. The buds are very swollen on some types of rhododendrons. One of my customers told me that the squirrels ate all the flower buds off her rhododendron. The swollen bud would have lots of water and a certain amount of sugar that would make a perfect food for hungry squirrels. Many a spring, you will see the squirrels taking the flower buds off the tulips to access the sugary water that is coming up the tulip stem.

I do worry about the perennials in your gardens. With temperatures fluctuating back and forth, the roots of the perennials are subject to a constant freeze and thaw cycle in the soil. This can do damage to the roots of the plant. A never-ending freeze thaw cycle can mean that the perennial roots are damaged beyond repair and the perennial dies. This is why it is so important to much your perennials and shrubs in the late fall.

Speaking of tulips and the other spring flowering bulbs, how will they fare the winter? In order to flower properly, they need about 14 to 16 weeks of cold soil temperatures. I’m not sure that we have had soil temperatures cold enough to help with this process. If they don’t get the cold soil temperatures, they may not flower.

There was a photo going around social media showing a rhododendron in bloom in the Carolinas. As you know, the flower buds are set last year for this year’s’ flowers. Once those flowers open now, there won’t be any additional flowers in the spring.

Warmer than normal temperatures can also prevent broadleaf evergreens from going dormant. This can lead to major damage to the leaves of these plants. There isn’t much you can do to prevent this from happening. We will all have to wait and see how the plants make it through the winter.

Having a warmer than normal winter may save you money on heating costs and save you money on snow removal costs. I am unsure if there will be a hidden cost to our plants that won’t show up until the spring arrives. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that our plants survive this strange winter.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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