University of Illinois Extension

 


Sharon Yiesla
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Lake County

Past Issues

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Weird Weather

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 don’t know what February and March hold in store for us. With that in mind, let’s 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 won’t 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

 

Past Issues

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