Will late snow and ice harm my spring bulbs?

Will late snow and ice harm my spring bulbs?

It’s every gardener’s nightmare: spring seems to have arrived, tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs are emerging and WHAM! an unexpected snow/ice storm accompanied by plunging temperatures blows in from out of nowhere, engulfing everything in an ice blanket.

Will your bulbs be ok? What do you do?

The good news is that spring-blooming bulbs have built in defences (kind of like a plant version of antifreeze) that help them make it through freeze/thaw conditions that would kill off a lot of other plants, so they’ll probably be ok.

 

Even though I know that, I see the emerging leaves and blooms trapped in ice, and think ugh, that’s it, no early flowers for me this year. But then a few days pass, the weather warms, and you’d never know the difference. They bloom as if nothing had happened.

 

March 25, 2016 – Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) encased in ice

 

March 27, 2016 – The same winter aconite (just a different camera angle) blooming, with no signs of damage.

 

It is possible, if they’re quite far advanced (i.e. in bud) and the temperature plunges really low (well below freezing, such as -20 Celsius or -4 Fahrenheit) that leaf tips and emerging buds could be frozen off. Thankfully, this is a very rare occurrence—I’ve only read about it but never witnessed it.

Plants just seem to know when it’s safe to grow.

 

As to what you can do when you’re standing by helplessly, looking at tulips trapped in ice/snow/cold temperatures?

There’s really nothing you can do. And they’ll probably be just fine.

However, it’s a different story with early spring blooming trees. I’ve had more than one year where my magnolia was covered in frothy pink blooms one day. The next I looked out onto stems covered in what looked like dirty, wet, used tissues. Magnolias, like gardeners, can’t be stopped when they start to bloom in spring.

Fortunately, gardeners are sturdier than magnolias—we just thaw our frozen fingers and keep digging.

And our tulips and crocuses keep blooming.

Crocus with bees

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