What to do when they bloom too early.

Gardening can be cruel. I know. Last fall, I gleefully paged through a pile of bulb catalogs, dreaming of a spring garden filled with drifts of daffodils and other gems. Here in Alabama’s USDA Zone 8A, spring is supposed to start in mid- to late February. But guess what? Much of December and the first half of January felt like April. Throwing the football outside in short sleeves on Christmas Day is a blast. For plants like my bulbs, though, such balmy weather can herald a bust.

Spring bloomers time their flowering on temperature. Once they have satisfied their winter chill requirement (typically a certain number of hours below 40 degrees or so), any extended period of warmth convinces them it must be spring and time to bloom. This can lead to disaster. Once a plant has shot out a flower bud, that bud isn’t going back in. It must deal with whatever temperature that follows.

What does this mean for your spring bulbs that are showing buds when you know a freeze or two are on the way? Well, maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll snow. Snow is an excellent insulator and you’ve seen multitudinous photo of bulbs blooming in the snow. That’s how we get names like “snowflake,” “snowdrop,” “snow crocus,” and “glory-in-the-snow.”

If it doesn’t snow, you still have options. You can pile up fallen leaves over the bulbs and use that for insulation. Or you can pray that the mercury doesn’t drop below 25 degrees and hope for the best. If your bulbs are already blooming, though, the safest thing to do before a hard freeze is pick them and enjoy them indoors. If the flower stem freezes outdoors, it will lay down and never stand up again.

I just surveyed my garden after last night’s freeze and happily report no daffodil casualties. My camellia is a different story, however. Its beauteous pink blossoms turned biscuit-brown. Like I said, gardening can be cruel.