Mother Nature has tricked us this winter with above average temperatures. This mild winter has our plants in a state of confusion. I have dozens of emails from readers with crocus starting to sprout and tulips peeking their heads out of the ground. Another reader said they are starting to see the dogwood blooms start to swell and apple blossoms plump. Yikes.
I'm going to show my meteorologist geek side and share some numbers with you. The National Weather Service says we had six and a half inches of snow on the ground at this time last year and so far the Toledo area has had just a fraction of snowfall this month. And 2011 was the wettest year on record for northern Ohio. According to weather data, Toledo had more than 48 inches of rain, breaking the record of 47 inches set back in 1950.
Last year at this time, it was 25 degrees and the ground was frozen solid with a three or four-inch layer of snow on the ground. On Sunday, we hit temps of 45 degrees and the top few inches of the ground are getting squishy. That's why the surface bulbs are starting to sprout.
Blooming too early
The plants are thinking it is time to wake up from their dormant winter slumber. The Ohio State University says our bulbs need at least 12 weeks of frozen temperatures to cool off and trigger blooming in the spring. It will be tight. If you figure the ground was frozen in mid November, then our bulbs will need to stay cold through mid February.
The good news is, the ground is still frozen if you go down four to eight inches. OSU scientists say tulips and other spring bloomers are pretty tough. If their foliage is peeking above the surface of the soil, don't worry. They can make it through a few short thaw and refreezing episodes.
You might see a bit of damage on the blooms that are opening now, but if most of them are still below ground, then you should still have blooms by March or April.
Usually, cormbs and tiny bulbs that are planted close to the surface, like winter aconite, snowflake, glory of the snow or snow drops are the first to bloom in the season. You can even see them sprouting in the snow. If we get a late season snowfall or ice storm, these will see some damage.
Tulips, daffodil, and hyacinth are next. These are usually planted a bit deeper than the smaller bulbs. Growers recommend planting any bulb at least three times as deep as the bulb is tall. For example, if your tulip bulb is two inches long, then you should plant it at least six inches deep. And if you did that, then those bulbs are still frozen.
But if they are starting to sprout, then you might have planted them too shallow. There's nothing you can do for them now, except maybe cover them with a thick layer of mulch to protect them from frost damage. But it might not be a bad idea to dig them up in the early summer and replant them in the fall a bit deeper. Those plants might have a bit of damage this spring, but should be OK for next season.
If your early blooming trees or fruit trees are starting to plump, that means the tree is coming out of its dormant state. Bright days and crisp temperatures in February usually will get trees to start moving sugar from the leaves and down to the roots. The swelling blossoms could be damaged if and when we get another cold snap. This could harm your early blossoms and fruit production this season.
Sparse but nasty
And that brings me to some bad news. The National Weather Service predicts fewer snow falls this spring, but scientists predict that when we get the snow, there will be lots of it.
So, brace yourself for a few snowstorms before spring. I guess we need to start planning the vegetable to brighten our day or bring some branches inside and force their blooms to brighten our days. Hmmm, that might be a great topic for next week.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at firstname.lastname@example.org.