All gardeners know, indeed all Kentuckians know, that Bluegrass State climate is anything but consistent. It seems any five-day stretch brings sun, rain, hail, snow, locusts and boils. You just can’t say for sure which is beginning any particular day. Our recent stretch of unusually odd weather has thrown many plants in a bit of a hissy fit.
So far this winter – following a basic cold snap accompanied by a delightfully and unseasonably warm stretch – we’ve seen many plants burst into bloom. Magnolias, azaleas, daffodils, viburnums, cherries as well as some jasmine were seen showing their spring colors amidst the mistletoe and holly. And since then this most common questions appearing in our inbox all revolve around what this all method for the spring garden.
To answer the question about next spring’s flower show, let’s commence with a little bit on where flowers originate from. Woody plants – the bushes that make up the backbone in our gardens – produce flowers by 50 percent different ways. Those termed flowering on old wood produce flower buds inside late summer and fall and after that put on their show these spring – think dogwoods, magnolias and lilacs.
Plants identified as flowering on new wood produce spring shoot growth first possibly at some time throughout the growing season form flowers from current season’s growth – butterfly bush. One major difference between both the is that those plants that flower on old wood need to get those dormant flower buds with the winter who is fit so they can do their thing come spring. And that’s the important trick.
Plants that grow in temperate zones, like Kentucky, evolved dormancy systems to aid ensure things happen in the most advantageous season. Acorns won’t germinate and grow regardless of what you do for them unless they get about 2,000 hours of sufficiently cold temperatures. This keeps the seed from pushing out its tender young seedlings during an unusually warm fall. They sit there, dormant from the winter, then once their cold requirement is met the acorns will react to warm weather with new seedling growth. The same thing happens with flower buds.
Those normally spring-blooming plants that opened in December usually are those with a decreased chill requirement; those who evolved in additional southern climes or along moderating oceans where there’s not much within the way of pogo-stick extreme weather shifts. The early cold snap there was provided only enough chill to sneak their bud dormancy making sure that when we jumped back up to the 60s again, they started whoopin’ this – all drunk with spring fever for wisdom from the heart.
The interesting thing that a majority of have missed on this horticultural misdirection is none of the plants that got fooled in December are species that evolved inside a Kentucky climate. They’ve learned from your old adage, “fool me once, shame for you … fool me twice, shame on me!” Our continental location, about as far through the moderating ocean as you can get nevertheless be in North America, makes wide and “unusual” weather swings usual.
Any plant species that evolved here has established that short chill requirements can be a recipe for disaster. All the beeches, redbuds, sweetbay magnolias and so on are still sitting on the market, scratching their heads, racking your brains on why other people are in such a horticultural hurry.
So finally, time for answering that question with what will happen this spring. Well the lacking it is any flower buds that already opened certainly aren’t gonna open next first day of spring. And Last Day of winter 2015 any fruit you were looking for from those flowers … that’s all gone too for 2016.
As to the buds that contain not yet opened … that’s another story. Those plants that weren’t fooled with the weather is going to be fine come spring. Those that partially bloomed undoubtedly are a little tougher to predict. Their still-closed buds could be just fine and definately will open together with the usual display next spring. Others, purchasing tight nevertheless dormant, could possibly have activated enough that this ensuing cold temperature could have killed them off.
To test among those questionable buds, slice open some with a knife or razor. If they look green or white-colored inside (especially in the base where they connect with the branch) they’re probably fine. If they appear to be mushy bacon…. I’m afraid the locusts and boils can have won this round.