When Flower Bulbs Come Up Too Early
Yesterday was an eventful day. Firstly, there was this little football game that you may or may not heard about. Ya’ know? The Super Bowl? We had a party to attend, which was a mixed blessing because the weather in Texas was phenomenal. I wanted to stay outdoors doing yard work, even though watching the game outdoors with friends turned out to be pretty amazing, too.
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Secondly, and more importantly, if you ask me, Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, gave his predictions for winter. As you probably know, he declared that we’d have an early spring. Anyone in Texas the last couple of days understands that we’ve already been enjoying an early spring. With 70 degree temperatures and lots of sunshine, it’s hard to imagine that snow is forecasted for the day after tomorrow. That is quintessential Texas – flip flops and fruity drinks today, fires and fuzzy socks tomorrow.
With all of the back and forth weather conditions, spring bulbs are bound to get a little confused. Heck, I’m a bit confused and having great difficulty doing little things like dressing each day. Cardigans are my best friends, at times like these. Since yesterday was nearly 80 degrees here, I wasn’t entirely shocked to hear his prediction – although he looked super cute giving it.
So far, winter has been unseasonably warm and wet, leading those flower bulbs to think it’s time to rise. In my own gardens, the leaves of daffodils and hyacinths are arising in several areas, but mostly in the areas in which I was unable to plant them deep enough. One type of daffodils, Erlicheer, have even bloomed in two different locations!
For starters, early rising bulbs are disappointing but are usually not a big cause for concern. Don’t panic when you see rising bulbs, even when you realize you have a few cold snaps yet to come. I did mention snow was in our forecast but I’m not particularly concerned about the bulbs that have risen or even flowered, just yet. Frost will kill the tender flower heads, on many varieties, but they’ll bounce back in the following years. I’m looking at it like this: I’m normally not blessed to see bright flowers in February, so it’s like an early preview that’s a really special treat.
Let’s go over why you could be seeing early rising bulbs and what you can do to prevent it or save the bulbs for future years. I’m not hating that early preview, but I’d prefer to save the show for when it’s warm enough EVERY day to be outside enjoying it.
Understand the Varieties
Erlicheer and crocus bulbs are known for flowering early, even with snow on the ground. These bulbs are overanxious to show the world what they’re made of, and they’ll normally survive frosts and even ice, and sometimes even retain their flowers! Some bulbs laugh in the face of winter, and in areas like mine, Zone 7b, we’re just a zone away from the sub-tropics. Our winters are short and mild compared to the majority of the country, so early-blooming bulbs are not at all uncommon.
Certain varieties just have a habit of popping in for a visit in February because they’re the first to arrive on-scene in March. It’s easy to get confused when the weather is bouncing back and forth between hot and cold because that’s how things go normally in March, for the majority of the country. Warm days and cold nights are not at all uncommon at the first of spring, after all.
Always research your plants. I can’t stress this enough, because it can be the difference between panicking and not panicking in these situations. Just because bulbs, like the crocus, are scheduled to bloom in March doesn’t mean that they don’t have a rep for arriving on the scene early. I love reading other bloggers’ posts, rather than the growers or nurseries because they give their firsthand account for growing different things.
They aren’t joking when they tell you to plant most spring bulbs to a minimum depth of 6″. Early rising, is precisely why. The deeper the bulbs are planted, the longer it takes for them to reach warm enough temps to trigger growth.
I’m certain my shallowly planted bulbs are the cause of early rising, in my garden. Sometimes, things like the hard ground, tree roots or other obstructions, or shallow beds prevent me from being able to plant 100% of my spring-blooming bulbs deep enough to protect them adequately. Obviously, if at all possible, you’ll want to follow planting instructions to the tee. Gardening with so many tropical plants has made me sort of a garden gambler, and with all gambling, you win some and you lose some!
Planting them shallowly isn’t my recommendation, of course. I’m just saying that even if you didn’t plant your bulbs deep enough for ideal growing, that doesn’t mean that you also won’t enjoy a fabulous showing this coming spring. I lose far more bulbs to critters than I do to rot or planting shallowly.
We have an almost squirrel infestation around here, probably thanks to my bird feeders, and I’m often found chasing them out of my gardens. They don’t usually eat the bulbs, but they certainly dig them up and carry them off. I’ll find them dried up, almost always too late, in really unexpected parts of the yard. Planting deeply doesn’t prevent squirrels from doing what squirrels do, but it certainly makes it more challenging for them! Sorry not sorry, squirrelly poos.
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Planting Too Early
Most of us go by the charts that growers give us for determining what months to plant our spring bloomers. In areas like mine, that rarely works. Just because a grower ships bulbs to me in September, doesn’t mean that’s when they should be planted in my area. This past September was unseasonably warm. I was still watering my yard several times per week and my tropicals at least every other day. Planting the spring bloomers at that time would’ve been devastating because they’d think it was time to begin growing immediately.
Spring-blooming bulbs should be planted when the temps are in the forties to prevent premature growth. Some years that might happen in September, while other years that might not happen until late December. The only thing we’re sure about living in Texas is that the weather is going to surprise us. We get blizzards and several inches of ice some years, while others, such as this one, have more 70 degree days than days below the freezing point. I visibly shiver at the thought of how our mosquito population is going to be this summer but that’s a post for another day.
What to do if bulbs come up too soon
So you followed all the rules (or didn’t-guilty!), and your bulbs arose too early. How do you prevent damage to the bulb when freezing temps are expected? As long as the bulb is merely sprouting, you don’t have to do much at all. But what if they’re full-blown blooming? It’s time to mulch and cover-up the plant entirely until the freezing temps have passed.
Odds are, you can stunt the growth enough to put them back on track for the desired spring bloom time. It’s possible that this season’s blooms are shot but that certainly doesn’t mean that the bulb won’t produce wonderfully in subsequent years. It’s also possible that blooms will return this season, as well. Lots of factors will determine whether or not this season’s blooms are salvageable, and most of them are beyond your control.
On most spring-blooming bulbs, the foliage can handle freezing temps and even ice, in moderation. If you live somewhere that’s exceptionally cold, your foliage might brown and die, and it might not return this season, at all. Again, it doesn’t mean that the bulb itself has been harmed. Keep in mind that spring-blooming bulbs often require some pretty cold temps to perform, to begin with.
One of the biggest reasons we plant these bulbs and wait for their show is that they are perennial in nature. We don’t have to worry about them. They’ll bloom and multiply all on their own. They can fill out a garden bed brilliantly, on their own terms. That wouldn’t happen if they weren’t pretty hardy and able to withstand a few curveballs from Mother Nature.
In fact, it’s been my experience that ignoring bulbs is often the key to their success! It’s over-tending that can lead to their demise. These guys like to planted and forgotten about, entirely. So my advice is to mulch them and forget about them unless they are actually producing flower buds or flowers. In that case, cover the plant and hope for the best.
Make sure to remove the cover when threats of frost have passed so that the plant can receive adequate sunlight or it could rot. It could even be necessary to repeat this process of covering and uncovering until actual springtime has arrived.
The majority of spring-blooming bulbs are mega hardy and desperate to dazzle you with flowers each and every year. Squirrels aside, there aren’t too many things that’ll do them in. So sit back and relax, and wait for the show!