Are Early Flowering Plants Safe – What To Do About Plants Flowering Early

By Karen Boness, Owner of Wild Willow Landscape Design, ISA Certified Arborist, Certified Permaculture Designer

Plants flowering early is a normal phenomenon in California and other mild winter climates. Manzanitas, magnolias, plums and daffodils typically show off their colorful blossoms as early as February. It is an exciting time of year signaling the upcoming end of winter.

But bulbs sprouting in winter isn’t normal in the cold winter climates of the East Coast, Midwest and the South. Are early flowering plants safe? What happens when it freezes again? Will the plants be permanently damaged? Will they bloom? People wonder how to protect plants that sprout early.

Flowers Blooming too Early

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Climate is the major reason for plants flowering early. If the soil and air temperatures are above average for an extended period of time, leaf and flower buds may sprout ahead of schedule.

Installing bulbs too shallow is another reason for bulbs sprouting in winter. The rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth that is three times their size. A 1” bulb should be planted 3” deep. If you don’t plant your bulbs deep enough, they may sprout early.

Bulbs need cool winter night temperatures that are consistently in 40s F. (4-9 C.) when they are installed. If they planted too early, you might see bulbs sprouting in winter as well.

What to Do About Plants Flowering Early

Bulbs sprouting in winter can be problematic in the short run but is not a long term problem. If there is only a bit of green leaves emerging from the soil and frost damages the leaves, the bulb will form additional leafy stocks later in the season.

If there is significant green growth or the buds have formed, you need to take action before it freezes again. Add extra mulch, cover up the plant with cartons, or place sheeting over the foliage to help protect these bulbs from frost or freeze damage.

If truly nasty weather is coming your way and the plant has already started to blossom, you can cut the flowers and bring them inside. At least you’ll get to enjoy them.

Bulbs are hardy. Even if you lose the entire top of the plant, the bulb itself will be okay nestled deep in the soil. The bulbs will come back to life the following year.

How to Protect Plants That Sprout Early

Are early flowering plants safe? For perennials and woody flowering shrubs, you need to know how to protect plants that sprout early.

Like bulbs, you can cover up the plants with a lightweight tarp or sheet when severe cold weather. This will hopefully save the blossoms. Adding more mulch always helps to keep the soil warm.

Spring blooming plants have a certain amount of energy allocated for flowers and fruit formation. If you completely lose the blossoms, more flowers may form but the display will be smaller and less impressive.

Losing the buds or the blooms to freezing temperatures won’t typically kill a healthy plant. These plants are adapted to winter climates. They will recover their blooming capacity the following year.

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