Several dreary, drizzly days were not enough to clear all the snow from my yard. We’re in that ugly, crusty, brown phase. Lovely.
The February thaw may have made the March blitz all the more frustrating to deal with, but it wasn’t unusual. We’ve had many years with flowering bulbs splayed on the ground under frozen snow. I’d like to think bulbs have more sense than to pop up weeks early, especially after being patient all fall and winter. But even the animals made the same silly mistake, coming out of hibernation early. With the ground once again covered with snow, the poor skunks had to forgo sleeping during the day, to try and find food 24/7.
The bulbs actually fare better than the animals, because they can just hang out and wait for better times. Most will simply shake it off and continue blooming. It may even extend the season for things that faint with the first 70 degree day, like snowdrops.
However, there are a few exceptions. If you are worried about your bulbs and the weather, here are a few questions to ask yourself.
What Type of Bulb is It?
Those super early bloomers – from snowdrops to grape hyacinths, to early daffodils – won’t let a little cold weather or a splat of snow stop them. They may look defeated, but they will rally with a little sunshine.
The most fragile spring bulb is probably the tulip. If you are up to it, you can cover them with row cover or an old sheet. But who feels like running outside in windy snow, to toss sheets around?
How Bad is the Weather and How Long will it Last?
Don’t worry about snow. Snow is actually a good insulator. It blankets the plants and protects against fluctuations in temperature, thawing soil, and cold, drying winds.
If there’s just a dip at night or a quick frost, no worries. However if the temperature doesn’t climb back up above freezing during the day, there could be problems. Several days or a week like last week, with cold enough temperatures to begin with and sub zero wind chill, could pose a problem.
You can pray for snow, but that’s not much of a consolation. And the old trick of spraying the plants with water, to insulate them with a coating of ice, isn’t attractive in sub-zero weather.
At this point, you might have to resign yourself to losing a few flowers this season. It won’t kill the plants, just this season’s flowers. Again, not much of a consolation.
But you can learn something from this tragedy. Plant your bulbs somewhere more sheltered. A southern exposure and a spot near the house’s foundation or a stone wall will radiate some heat and offset the sub temperatures. Avoid areas at the bottom of a slope, where cold tends to collect, and in a wind tunnel… you know, those spots where the wind tends to blow the leaves into cyclones.
Next year, you might want to mulch the ground, after the soil freezes. With the frozen ground covered, the soil will be slower to thaw, in the spring. Christmas trees branches are great for this.
What if Your Bulbs do Get Hit?
It could be ugly. However, don’t rush to cut the plants down. If you want blooms next year, you will still need to let the leaves have as much time as possible to photosynthesize.
If your bulbs are almost ready to bloom and you can get outdoors before the bad weather starts, you can always cut some stems and bring them indoors to bloom.
A Plus to Late Snow and Frost
While impatient gardeners may curse spring snow storms, they have their uses in the garden. During a mild winter, some plants never really experience the proper dormancy they require to know when to wake up. A blast of cold weather – with a bit warmer temperature during the day- is just what they need to coax them back to life.
And the snow will eventually melt, softening the soil, hydrating the roots, and making its way down to the water supply.
All in all, late frosts and snow probably bother the gardener more than the early spring plants. A frost later in the season can kill semi-opened tree buds… but that’s another story.