Steve Bender

They’re not stupid, they’re just mixed up

Something weird is going on in my back yard. An azalea has been blooming its head off for two weeks now. And it ain’t a reblooming Encore either. Last fall, the same thing happened with a big rhododendron. The shrub thought November was May. I thought Judy put something funny in my drink.

Then I noticed the weirdness spreading all through the hood. Forsythias blooming. Japanese magnolias blooming. Quinces blooming. What could be causing this? The Zombie Apocalypse? The Invasion of the White Walkers? A Glenn Beck telethon? Has anybody noticed yet that all three events are pretty much the same thing?

As frightening as they are, none of the above are responsible for plants blooming at the wrong time. The culprit, faithful reader, is something none of us can control, and I’m not talking about Dear Leader’s haircut. It’s the weather.

Plants are genetically programmed to respond to weather conditions in a way that favors their growth and provides the best chance to pass on their genes to the next generation. For spring-blooming plants, lengthening days and warming temperatures tell them that winter is over and it’s safe to open flowers that won’t be damaged or killed by cold, so that waiting pollinators can do their job. But sometimes, plants get fooled.

WATCH: Why Didn't My Hydrangeas Bloom

Let’s say you’ve just had a hot, dry summer that has basically halted the plant’s growth. Then a cold front passes through in early fall, bringing with it lots of rain, a spell of chilly days, followed by mild ones. These are much nicer growing conditions. The plant wakes up, notices it feels an awful lot like spring, and blooms. No Glenn Beck involved.

Will a plant that mistakenly blooms in fall also bloom next spring? Not likely. Any flower bud that opens in fall won’t be around in spring. So you don’t get a two-fer. But that’s the least of your worries right now. Winter is coming. The Night King is headed your way.