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Blooms way ahead of schedule

Posted by Sarah Fellerer -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Cleary our blooming plants are ahead of schedule since we had such a warm March. Horticulturists rely on a system called Growing Degree Days (GDD) for plant development, for monitoring for insects and disease. The GDD system uses a base temperature of 50 degrees to begin to calculate how many GDD we have had. Last week Northern Illinois was just a week ahead of schedule while Central and Southern Illinois remains two to three weeks ahead.

All that is well and good, but our plants are not following the GDD schedule very well this year. Gardeners are seeing plants with flower buds on them that should not being there for many weeks yet. I have seen and had reports from homeowners and Master Gardeners, all talking about how early our blooming plants are flowering. Arboretums had to cancel some of their spring bulb bloom shows because the bulbs came out and bloomed weeks ahead of their normally scheduled and publicized show dates. More locally, peonies which bloom around Memorial Day have for many varieties bloomed out, with just a few blooms remaining.

Surprisingly, some of our other late summer or fall blooming plants have already begun to set flower buds. Normally gardeners would be out pinching back fall mums to create shorter, bushier plants, yet some mums have already set flower buds. The big question is can you prune anyway and hope the mums set more buds for fall? The general opinion is that you should be able to prune now and still see mums set flowers for later this fall. You can experiment and maybe prune one of your mums back that is in a more out of the way place and see what happens. Mums should be setting buds based on a change of day length later in the summer.

Stonecrop sedum can also be found with flower buds forming well ahead of normal. Stonecrop sedums are normally a late summer fall bloomer. I believe what has been happening is that both mums and stonecrop sedum set buds as a response to our temperatures rather than day length. Gardeners are also seeing that those spring bulbs that did bloom so early have vegetatively grown bigger since they have had many days since blooming to put on lots of foliage. Hopefully that will translate into more or bigger bulbs and blooms in 2013. If our weather continues to moderate and we have cooler days and nights, our GDD day accumulation will continue to slow and get us closer to normal, although gardeners should expect to see more surprises in the garden and landscape as the season moves ahead.

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