Before this past January Blizzard our winter was definitely not a white one. In fact, it was an unusually colorful winter. The warm weather confused the plants into thinking that spring had sprung and it was time to be in bloom.
Many plants such as tulips, daffodils, viburnums, forsythia, rhododendron, and azalea were tricked into thinking that the next blooming cycle started. These plants started poking shoots out of the ground or started sprouting leaves. What will this mean for these plants now that a blizzard has come and the warm weather of November and December is behind us?
Fortunately, plants are resilient and while we may notice that this spring lacks some vibrancy, the snow doesn’t necessarily mean that these plants have permanently died. Most of the damage will have been contained to the foliage as most plants haven’t completely flowered yet. This will end up protecting all of the plants that haven’t flowered already as the flower stem growth occurs independently of the leaves. Plants start to grow shoots and leaves which help create food for the plant via photosynthesis. When the plant has accumulated enough energy from that, they will grow more roots and flowers.
These plants may look a little sad and brown, or appear as if they have melted, but the brown parts can be cut off to allow for new growth to continue. Those that have bloomed used up their energy to bloom early, meaning that they won’t bloom again this upcoming spring. However, once the next winter comes, provided it’s a little more normal than this year’s was, the cycle will return to normal and the flowers will begin to bloom in the spring.
There are some problems though that this unseasonable weather has created:
First off, the agriculture industry could suffer and we may see a rise in fruit prices next year. The warm weather may have triggered the flowers of fruit trees to come out of dormancy and start budding. If the snow came while the flower was still on the tree, the pistils of the flower will end up dying, preventing any fruit from growing. Luckily, if flowers haven’t formed yet, not all of the buds may die. If only a few of the buds don’t survive the cold, this will thin the crops out, allowing the rest of the fruit to have a better growth potential.
Secondly, the insect population didn’t die off as quickly as usual. Many insects that normally die off in the winter have had an extended time to eat plants or spread disease to them. This may harm many plants that are not accustomed to having to deal with this form of insect predation during the typical winter months.
Ultimately, the main concern is not whether the spring will be filled with yellows and pinks. It’s whether climate change is going to permanently kill many plant species off or whether the plants will be able to adapt quickly enough. Plants have taken years upon years to adapt to the steady patterns of the seasons and now that climate change is unsettling those patterns rather abruptly in comparison to how long the plants have spent adapting, the plants may not have enough time to change. Some that need the warmer weather are moving north, but it may not be fast enough to continue survival.
While our concern at the moment may be if Cherry Blossom Festivals will still occur, if our gardens will ever recover, or if the price of strawberries will sky rocket, we should be worried about some bigger issues. We may be facing more serious plant growth problems if this bizarre and unusual weather continues
Learn more about how climate change is effecting plant growth, what to do to help your plants make it through the winter, and see what it looked like in some of the most beautiful gardens and arboretums in the country this past winter by checking out these links!