Ask Elaine: Will Spring Ice, Snow or Frosts Injure My Flower Buds?

Spring is just around the corner but it does not always mean warm weather. Will ice, snow or frosts injure my flower buds? Thanks and Happy Spring!


Dear Sunny,

Spring is indeed on its way. Hurray! Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 12:16pm marks the time that the sun crosses the equator moving north (in the northern hemisphere). It also represents a day with equal duration of day and night, almost. Really, the spring equinox is when the sun rises due east and sets due west.

Cooler than average temperatures are predicted from March to May, 2018 in most of North America. Blame it on the “polar vortex.” So, what is a gardener to do with cool weather and great hopes of spring blooms in the garden? Well, NOT TOO MUCH.

Many of our flowering plants require a chilling period of a certain number of days before growth resumes in spring. Most of our woody trees and shrubs have leaf and flower buds covered with scales that protect the bud from temperature extremes. Once the soil begins to thaw, the plant can pull up moisture from the soil and the buds will swell. Expanding buds are less resistant to freeze injury. Plant tissue freezes at 28 degrees and below. Since cold air settles, lower limbs and plants at low elevations might have a greater chance of having damaged buds. Usually, enough flower buds were formed the year before for our enjoyment.

Spring flowering bulbs are pretty tough. Snowdrops, winter aconite, crocus, hyacinths and most daffodils seem to be very resistant to cold, wet spring weather. An overnight frost will not damage them, but extended daytime temperatures below 28 degrees might cause some damage. Leaves may be distorted but the flower bud, deeper in the bulb, should be fine. A late spring snowstorm actually acts as a blanket of insulation that protects the foliage and flower buds from extreme fluctuations in temperature. Cold winds have a drying effect on the plants. Leaves could become limp and damaged. This is sometimes referred to as dry wilt. There is not much to do about this situation, although some gardeners water the area if the ground is partially thawed. The plant may take up the water. Some gardeners spray water on their plants when freeze temperatures are predicted. The ice that forms protects the plant from losing too much moisture by maintaining a constant temperature. Mulching after the soil freezes in autumn helps to maintain a constant soil temperature and reduce frequent freezing and thawing cycles that may heave the bulbs out of the ground. It is not too late to add some protection if an extreme freeze is predicted. Straw is great — it’s loose and light.

Just remember, no matter how well that you plan, Mother Nature is in charge.

Spring salutations!
Elaine Fogerty, Executive Director

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