This has certainly been anything but a normal northern Illinois
winter. Relatively little snow, warm temperatures until almost Christmas,
and at least two January thaws. While many people are enjoying this
easy winter, gardeners find themselves wondering about their plants.
How will the weird weather affect this coming gardening season?
This is something that no one will be able to predict with any
accuracy, since we dont know what February and March hold
in store for us. With that in mind, lets look at the situation
as it stands now. At this point, we should not be worried about
major losses among our garden plants. Many gardeners noted that
the foliage started coming up on their spring bulbs during December.
If only the leaves came up and there were no flowers showing, we
may still get a spring flower display from our bulbs.
Some perennials surprised us with blooms in December. This does
not mean they wont bloom again. It is not uncommon for perennials
to bloom more than once in a year, when the weather conditions are
right. The majority of perennials will probably come out right on
schedule and give us a good display. Any perennials that are not
fully cold hardy in northern Illinois, may perform poorly or even
be damaged, but that is the chance we gardeners take when we push
the limits on cold hardiness.
At this point, our trees and shrubs may be most at risk. Woody
plants need a certain number of hours of chilling to overcome their
winter dormancy. Each species varies in the number of hours needed.
These chilling hours are accumulated, not in the coldest days of
winter, but in the days when temperatures range between 32 and 45
degrees F. This year, many of our trees and shrubs are well on their
way to getting their chilling requirements met. The problem arises
when the chilling requirement is met early and the leaves and flowers
start to emerge from the buds earlier than normal. Once these buds
begin to open, they are at the mercy of changing spring temperatures.
A frost or freeze could be quite damaging to young leaves and flowers.
Forsythia needs relatively few hours of chilling. That is why some
gardeners have reported that their forsythia bloomed in December
or January. These shrubs will most likely not be able to bloom again
in the spring.
So what can we look forward to? Again it is hard to predict. If
our weather stays somewhat constant, we may have relatively few
problems. Unfortunately, northern Illinois winters (and springs)
seldom have consistent weather patterns. Often many plants make
it through winter to be killed or damaged by wildly fluctuating
spring conditions. Stay tuned to your local weather station and
keep your fingers crossed. Spring is just around the corner.
February - March 2002: Starting
From Seed | Can I Prune Now? | Lady
Beetles "Housing" in Illinois| New
Septic System Publications | Weird Weather