This year the weather has been crazy. We saw 70’s in February followed by 30’s and snow in the middle of March. The warm weather was great, but it got all of us in the mood for spring, including our plants. Now that we have seen such a cool down, our plants may be the ones most affected.
We have seen early budding in many of our shade trees and shrubs, which often happens with above average winter and spring temperatures. This can be problematic for the plant. If the swelling or opening up of buds occurs prior to a cold snap, it can cause damage to that particular bud. If those buds that were opening up were flower buds, we may lose the flowers on that shrub or tree for the year. However, if those buds were leaf buds, those plants may be set back on their emergence and growth for the year. If leaf buds were damaged, a healthy tree will set new, secondary buds to push growth but it will be later in the season than normal. As long as the tree is healthy it will be fine. But, there is nothing you can do to stop this condition.
This warm up, cool down cycle is stressful to our plants. So, it is a good idea to help keep your plants otherwise healthy. Make sure your trees and shrubs are properly mulched and kept well watered in the absence of rain.
Another issue that we are dealing with this spring with the rapidly changing environment, is the advanced emergence from dormancy of spring bulbs prior to this latest cold snap. There is nothing you can do regarding this issue either. The bulbs that have already begun to bloom may lose their flowers early or have some freeze damage. These bulbs may also experience some leaf dieback. Tulips and daffodils are normally a spring blooming plant, so they are accustomed to normal spring freezes adapting to temperatures as low as the upper 20’s. However, if we see anything lower than that, these plants may exhibit freeze damage on the leaves, showing up as white, limp leaves. Do not cut back the damaged leaves until the foliage dies back on its own.
Finally, we have started to see many of our perennial plants emerging and greening up for the spring already. Much of this growth occurred before the cold snap last week. As for these plants, I would advise you to just leave them alone. If there is a forecast for very low temperatures, it would benefit the plants to add additional mulch or a row cover over them for the overnight hours, pulling that back during the day as the temperatures warm up. If you didn’t remove the plant material last fall, leave it there now until the spring, even as they green up below it. If you expose the crown of the plant that has been covered by the dead plant material all winter long, cold snaps will be more problematic for the plants. The dead plant material and extra mulch the plant has had over the winter months will protect it from freezing and thawing and from very cold temperatures this late in the season. It is best to wait until we are more consistently facing spring weather before removing this plant blanket they have had all winter.