out-of-synch spring after a non-winter: a recap

I KEPT PANICKING to hurry up and get my chores done, because the scenery outside looked like late April, or at least it did before one Monday night’s 22ish-degree siege, which took lots of prisoners. Before it got any farther out of control here—or erased, if that’s what nature had in mind instead—I took a look in late March 2012 at what had bloomed so far in the earliest spring I’d ever seen (following the winter I never saw at all).  

Quick note: The green text links will take you to full profiles of most of the plants mentioned, if any of them sound like something you’d like to add to your extra-early garden, whatever month it happens to happen in from year to year.

january beginnings

WE ALREADY TALKED in January 2012 about the witchhazels, or Hamamelis x intermedia, that began flowering about January 20, and continued all through February until halfway through March.

Helleborus foetidus, above, the stinking hellebore, has been at it that long, too—and shows no signs of stopping.  Apparently no winter is what this plant, which sows itself around the garden and is far less robust most years in my Zone 5B, prefers.

Also extra-early, starting just as January ended: Salix chaenomeloides, the giant pussy willow, whose overblown catkins finally fell to the ground this week after a long, extra-early and showy run.

february happenings

Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, began its show in the second half of February 2012 and all of March. In most years, it opens around mid-March—so I’d say in February we were almost a month advanced.

Around the same time, snowdrops (Galanthus, Feb. 15 start), always the first bulb to open for me, and quick on their heels the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis, Feb. 23 start) did their thing. In a “normal” year, the winter aconites would just be peaking now—but they’re all long gone.

the march report

IN MID-MARCH the few Crocus I have got going, as did super-fragrant, purple-flowered Daphne mezereum, above. By then, all my honeysuckles, or Lonicera, were already leafed out, which seemed to me to be a very daring act of faith on their parts.

Moths (including the one I held to snap a shot of, below, on March 13) and mosquitoes were in full force; the ticks have never stopped all “winter.” I’ve had two bites and picked off many others not yet embedded in the last two weeks.

My typically early April “Forsythia alternatives” were at it two or three weeks early:

And yes, the local crop of Forsythia was also going strong, and still is, for those who like a less-subtle start to spring’s super-gleaming golden days that lie just ahead–or at least I think that’s what’s coming next.

Joining the picture was Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’—a gold-leaf shrub with tiny white flowers that usually starts the April goings-on here but just couldn’t wait.

The magnolia called ‘Elizabeth’ started opening a week ago; bad timing. (She’s supposed to be yellow, as above on Monday, but by Tuesday morning was orange, below, and then brown, as the frozen flowers melted and then oxidized.) I will be sad not to see any of my magnolias’ cucumber-like seedpods come fall as a result.

I was also disappointed that the orientalis hybrid hellebores (like the bicolor one below) were starting to expand when a mid-March heatwave began, because their usually long and delightful show has been on fast-forward. By the 29th, I noted they’d peaked already—typically when they would just be getting started.

April’s classic bulb, the Narcissus, was also well into its display, and so was Pulmonaria rubra, below, a little red-flowered groundcover I’m particularly partial to—and that some years even when there is a winter defies everything and starts super-early, anyhow. That’s about the only one I wasn’t really surprised to see so soon.

WHAT’S NEXT? I’d be happy for cooler, more seasonal weather to slow things down and perhaps even normalize the pace, but then again—I’m not in charge. Inconvenient, perhaps, but true. By the end of March it looked like Viburnum carlesii planned to bloom any time now (what?!?!), as did the espaliered Asian pear on the back of the house. We shall see was all I could say.

Good news: It rained near the end of the month, something we haven’t seen in ages here, and so for now I’ll act like I would in any other late March: I’ll plant my peas today in the slightly moist soil, and some spinach, too. If the heavens aren’t enforcing any sense of normalcy, I guess I would, anyhow–or at least that tiniest bit, one seed at a time.

  1. Maddybee says:

    Yes, thanks for the documentation of what has been growing and blooming by month. In my garden (West/Central NJ) there do appear to be earlybirds (e.g. daylillies popping up) and things leafing out early, I think (Stewartia)? But my sweet smelling viburnum is also budded out and about bloom but my memory tells me that is right on schedule (late March.) Leatherleaf mahonia finished with its sweet yellow flowers. And my magnolia no where near blooming.

  2. My dad has a small-ish (11 acres) tree nursery and it’s been a difficult spring for him because many of the trees broke bud in the heat, which mostly means it’s too late to dig. So he and all the other nurseries have been rushing to get it done, but it will be a small dig this year. Such is nature I suppose.

  3. Rae says:

    I did cover shrubs which had started growing, especially my different hydrangeas. However, the new growth has broken down anyway. I just hope the blooms this summer will still be there. Now it’s supposed to flurry overnight. Crazy.

  4. Lynn E Thompson says:

    You are like a one woman army…….can’t believe you get all this done.

    Your house looks gorgeous…did you renovate? Love the colors, aside from the plant and tree life…..

    sorry about magnolias.. my white one got hit.. the pink and yellow is ok

  5. ann says:

    Thanks so much for lovely pictures.. My Daffodils have never bloomed this early here in Dakota after the winter that wasn’t..

  6. Steve says:

    Chicago is experiencing the same craziness–but the urban heat island protected the magnolias from the temperature swings–so far! 80 predicted here again for later in the weekend, which means it should reach upstate NY a day or so later…yikes.

  7. sylvia says:

    Our forsythia is over for the most part as well as the magnolia. I brought plants in two nights ago and tonight may have to as well since scattered frost is forecast. Hate this change.

  8. Jan Ogle says:

    Here in northern Michigan along the lakeshore south of Traverse City, my coneflowers, and hydrangeas are going strong which is unheard of in this region. Unfortunately so are the brown dog ticks. Normally we don’t start the Frontline meds until June butnhadntonstart both heart worm and tick and flea meds last week. Beware if you have animals in woody areas.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jan. Same here re: the animals and tick meds. All my neighbors have had to see the vet early with their dogs. Crazy! See you soon, I hope.

  9. Lynn E Thompson says:

    Long Island is as dry as board..Red flags all over and fires…..

    We need lots of rain…….my mulche is holding a lot of moisture in for the bulbs…but not for the trees or grass seed I planted.

  10. Stacey says:

    We’ve been lucky here in the Rocky Mtns of SW Colorado in that we had a cold enough winter to do away with the bugs for the season, but we didn’t get much snow so there is already worry about drought. It’s hard to figure out what we’d “like” to happen… now that spring weather is here and the plants are moving along we don’t want cold weather to abort their reproduction, but we need the moisture. I guess we just hope for rain then? Interesting times to be sure. Thank you for sharing the lovely photos and another, interesting angle on this odd year.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Stacey. Nice to see you! Hoping for rain here for sure — just a tiny bit the other day, but not much moisture all winter, which is very odd for us. Sigh.

  11. I am hoping my star magnolias, which had started to bud, will be okay…ordinarily I don’t think I would see them flower until well into May. I am in Columbia County as well.

  12. Carolyn says:

    Not sure how to manage my plant life wth this crazy weather either. 27 degree night midweek last week–first robin spotted on Feb 26…Mizuna and mibuna going to seed-lots of beneficials flying around the flowers (very exciting)-but strange-use to having snow at this time. I am keeping my Reemay close by for the surprise cold temp. Wonder what next winter will be like?

    1. margaret says:

      I hear you, Carolyn. I have just lugged pansy pots out AGAIN because the forecast keeps calling for more frosts, but none have been like last Monday’s. Keeping the covers at hand here, too.

  13. Mary Jean Hunt says:

    In my Oyster Bay, NY garden my lilac “Tinkerbelle” is ready to bloom. Guess I’ll have lilacs on the Easter table instead of the Mother’s Day table!

  14. mary ann says:

    have tree peony that got semi-zapped that chilly night even tho
    I covered her……..here in rochester ny all daffodils are spent and
    the flowering pears are about to burst and our famous lilacs will
    be early and most likely be gone by the Lilac Festival……
    ???global warming??? does make gardening interesting.

  15. Lauren Dunn says:

    Thank you for the lovely pictures. We were so glad our daffodils survived the cold. Our magnolias are opening now. Your pictures are always inspirational and welcoming….

  16. bavaria says:

    I love the pulmonaria rubra for early bloom. I divided mine last spring and the new place I put the division is making it show dark green leaves and vivid blue flowers, whereas the plant remaining in the original spot is soft green with pink flowers. Do you know if soil acidity is affecting this? Haven’t had much luck finding info…

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