Question: With this warm weather, my spring bulbs have already started to pop up out of the ground. Will they be damaged when colder temperatures return?
Answer: It is often distressing for gardeners to see their daffodils, tulips and other fall-planted bulbs sending leaves up in early to mid-winter but is not uncommon.
When you plant bulbs in the fall they start growing underground almost immediately. The reason it is recommended that you plant bulbs in the fall is so that they can form a good root system before the ground freezes. Fall planted bulbs generally need six weeks in the soil before the ground freezes to establish good roots and have their best chance at success. These bulbs prefer a nice, old-fashioned winter where temperatures gradually drop, stay cold and then slowly warm up as spring approaches. However, our winter temperatures are more erratic than that, giving us shorter cold periods and mild weeks like we are experiencing now. Take heart, these bulbs are much more adaptable and resilient than you may expect them to be.
If the weather is unusually warm, fall-planted bulbs may start to send sprouts above ground and even show a few inches of green leaves. Keep in mind that there's a lot of antifreeze in these plants, so they can survive just fine with their leaves above ground over winter. And, more importantly, flower stem development occurs independently of the leaves. Many of your bulbs need ten to thirteen weeks of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower. No matter what the leaves are doing, the plant will not send flower shoots up until they go through this period of lower temperatures. Sometimes this overly eager foliage can be damaged by extreme cold and drying winds as winter temperatures return and may cause the tips of the leaves to turn brown. What is important is that the flower buds stay below ground where they are well protected.
If you have planted your bulbs at the recommended depth and covered them with a few inches of mulch, there is no need to do anything at this point. When bulbs are planted in the fall, it is always a good idea in our area to put a few inches of straw, bark chips or other mulch to protect them from extreme cold. If you did not do this and notice the buds are peaking above the surface in mid-winter, it might be a good idea to lay a thin layer of mulch to help protect them. Be careful when adding mulch now because too much frozen mulch applied in winter can be as damaging to emerging flowers as the cold temperatures.
It is possible that these bulbs may bloom a few weeks early or they could be right on time if the ground takes a longer time to warm up when spring does arrive. The leaves are tough, and the flower buds are still safe inside their bulbs.
For more information on spring-flowering bulbs you can contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact 609-625-0056. Cape May County Residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Interested in becoming a Rutgers Certified Master Gardener? Classes began Jan. 7 and run Tuesday mornings at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension office in Mays Landing. You may still be able to join for 2020. Applications are available at rutgers-atlantic.org/garden Please call 609-625-0056 for more information. Cape May County residents welcome. Interested in home horticulture/Master Gardener educational classes but not quite sure if you want to take 20 weeks of classes or commit to the volunteer hours for certification? We have made some of our classes open to the public in 2020!
When: Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to noon;
Where: 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing
Cost: $25 nonrefundable registration fee per class is required. Must be registered and paid in advance. Checks should be made out to Rutgers, The State University of NJ.
Contact: Anita Wagner, program assistant, at 609-625-0056 or email Wagner_Anita@aclink.org for more information.
Want to make a difference in your community? Sign up for the 2020 Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program hosted at the ACUA. The program helps nonscientists learn about the environment and become equipped with knowledge and skills to solve real environmental issues. Classes take place every Tuesday, Jan. 28 through June, and are held 4 to 7 p.m. Register at acua.com/stewards
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “garden question” in the subject line.