You may have recently seen jonquils and other bulbs coming up all around Cobb County. It’s been warm and rainy, and the plants love it. I’ve been loving it too. We’ve been wearing shorts and flip flops in January! But the forecast does show cooler temps coming. An earlier than average warming event followed by another period of freezing temperatures is called a false spring.
There really is no need to worry if you see daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs emerging long before spring: These bulbs are hardy and can adapt to the erratic weather, despite preferring a more traditional winter. With unusually warm weather, bulbs may sprout and show a few inches of green. That foliage can be damaged by extreme cold and drying winds and the tips of the leaves may also turn brown. However, as long as the flower buds are below the ground, they are protected from the cold. If they do rise up above the soil surface, consider adding a layer of mulch to protect them.
Some plants and trees may not be as lucky. A light frost doesn’t usually cause major damage except to very tender plants. But a hard freeze, will freeze the water in plant cells, causing damage to cell walls or frost damage. Frost damage is when ice crystals pull moisture from the leaf tissue, dehydrating the leaves. With trees, freezing temperatures can kill newly opened buds and significantly set the tree back. If the tree is under a lot of stress, it could die — otherwise it shouldn’t harm it. However, the tree will have to reform all the leaf and flower buds and play catch up all season long. It may not fruit and flower all season and production may also be low.
Not all plants are affected the same. One of the many benefits of native trees and shrubs is that they are less affected by a false spring than non-native plants. They are more acclimated to their environment, and they use photoperiod as a guide more than temperature.
Even the hardiest of natives can succumb to repeated false spring events. The extent of damage depends not only on the stage of the plant’s development, but also on when the weather began to warm, how long it stayed warm, humidity, how cold it got and for how many days the cold weather lasted. Early blooming plants and fruits are most susceptible. In the false spring of 2017, South Carolina lost 90% of their peach crop and Georgia peaches and blueberries were severely damaged.
Climate scientists have shown that spring is coming earlier these days. Studies show that many plants are blooming earlier in response. If you are losing plants to false spring, consider mulching the soil surface after you plant in the fall. Mulch keeps the soil temperature more constant and will protect premature sprouts from damage. Several inches of straw, bark chips or evergreen boughs will provide good protection. The best time to apply a winter mulch is late fall, after the ground starts to freeze.
February Events at Our Giving Garden
Feb 8: Volunteer Orientation
Noon – 2pm
Feb 17-Feb 21 Winter Break Camp: Ages 3 years (and potty trained) and up. Teen volunteers needed!
Feb 20th: Seed Starting Class 6-8pm. FREE
Paper Making Workshop Feb 10 6-8pm. Make your own paper for a valentine. For All ages. $6
Judy Byler is the Director of the Giving Garden. In addition to this volunteer work she is a Registered Dietitian with a MS is Nutritional Sciences from UF. She is a homeschooling mother of two.