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What to do if Plants Wake up Too Early in the Winter

What to do if Plants Wake up Too Early in the Winter

We’re seeing a lot of this phenomenon this season with the abnormally warmer temperatures throughout much of the US. Trees and shrubs that normally stay dormant until late winter and early spring are waking now- in the early winter. While some swelling of buds is normal, seeing them swell and open is something else entirely. Here’s what you need know if your shrubs and trees are waking too early in the season.

There are many species of plants that have adapted to this crazy weather already. While some leafing out from the terminal buds on the tips of branches may result in freezing damage when winter inevitably sets back in, the plant is prepared. You may see the same kind of bud further down each stem that the plant has ready, in the event something like this happens. While the plant rarely gets to use these buds during normal years where winter cold is consistent, it’s ready for when winter tosses in a speedbump. The leafed out tip may suffer damage, but the reserve of buds behind it will take over when the season is right. To lessen the appearance of damage in the spring, simply prune away the damaged terminal buds.

In some areas where spring brings a yearly moisture event, like a monsoon, plants native to that area have adapted accordingly. In these areas like in the desert, plants wake when heavy rains begin and quickly put on growth to take full advantage of the sudden deluge of rain. They bud out and send out new root growth very fast. If there is no moisture present when the plant is sending out root growth, you will see the damage later on. It’s a good idea to water these types of plants in warmer areas, even when they break dormancy too early. Root damage is far worse than stem tip and bud damage. Watering during the warm spell can help quell root damage.

You may also notice spring bulbs emerging too early. To slow emergence, cover with a shade cloth or polypropylene sheet. If you have your bulbs in containers, simply place the containers in a shaded spot, or cold shed for the rest of the season where they are out of the sun and daytime warming temps until the warm days pass and winter sets back in. If they’re in the ground and have emerged over a few inches, cover them with a generous layer of mulch to protect the new growth the best you can from a deep, long freeze.

In the end, many trees and shrubs will simply undergo their early spring show, like cherries and jasmines, now. And, they won’t put on another show in the spring when they normally do. And while this might seem like a loss, many people are getting out and enjoying them now. An early introduction into the 2016 season may be a sign of things to come that might not be so bad. An occasional wrench in the cogs of the normal timing of life can be a good thing. 

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