What Record Winter Warmth Means For Your Plants

December 27, 2015 | By | Comments (5)

Photo: Steve Bender

Grumpy loves eating dinner in the fresh air on his screened porch. But in late December? In shirt sleeves? 77 degrees? This weather is weirder than Donald Trump donning a sombrero and singing “Feliz Navidad” with a mariachi band. And though your plants are smiling now, there could be dire consequences ahead.

That’s my ‘Caroline’ rhododendron blooming above. Never looked prettier. Thinks it’s April. Problem is, any flower that opens now won’t be around in spring. Spring-blooming shrubs, bulbs, and trees flower but once a year. So enjoy their blossoms now, because this spring could look pretty green.

Did you plant tulips this fall? Expect some pretty dinky flowers in spring. The big-flowered, long-stemmed hybrids need 8 to 10 weeks of cold weather to develop properly. The shorter and milder the winter, the shorter their stems will be. Don’t be surprised to find some that bloom barely above the ground.

Fruit trees are a bigger concern. Although you can buy low-chill apples, peaches, and pears, most need at least 800 hours of temperatures at 45 degrees or below each winter to blossom well. If I owned an orchard now, I’d be knocking back the hard cider like nobody’s business right now.

The worst result, however, is that plants might “wake up” from dormancy or never go dormant at all, and then get whacked by a sudden hard freeze. The water inside their stems and leaves will freeze, explode their cells, and turn them to mush. Broadleaf evergreens, such as gardenia, Confederate jasmine, camellia, loropetalum, and azalea are more susceptible to this kind of damage than deciduous plants, but I’ve seen Japanese maples split right down the side by a hard freeze and killed to the ground. And if your French hydrangeas, forsythia, Japanese magnolia, or blueberry don’t bloom next year, record warmth followed by severe cold will be the reason why.

What can you do to stop this? Absolutely nothing. So grab some hard cider, find Donald Trump, and start singing with the band.



  1. Ginger Gower

    I suppose we’ll have to replace all the elephant ears.

    January 23, 2016 at 6:47 pm
  2. Jean

    Rose pink Encore azalea blooming today. I fear it might be frozen later tonite. sigh….

    December 31, 2015 at 6:10 pm
  3. Julia Phelps

    My beloved loropetalum is full is pink blooms…on the interior branches. My red maple has sprouted leaves. Everything else is still dormant. ( Forsythia, roses, cherries ) Zone 7A. North GA.
    Reports for elsewhere?

    December 31, 2015 at 5:58 pm
  4. Lighting Ideas


    December 28, 2015 at 4:53 pm
  5. James Osier

    Azaleas blooming in Dallas today. Maybe I should start dying Easter eggs?

    December 28, 2015 at 4:19 pm

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