The Magnolias Are Confused and So Am I


March is defnitely the cruelest month.  I never heard the phrase “mud season” until I moved to upstate New York 20 years ago, but March is it, mud season. Of course, April is no cakewalk, either.  I can usually count on there being snow on the ground in Saratoga Springs into April.

But most of this March was as mild as May, and the plants have been reacting, doing things disturbingly early. This threatens all kinds of celebrations, both public and private. Elizabeth just posted about Buffalo’s Dyngus Day celebration being upset by too-early catkins on the pussy willows. (Next year, I’ll skip Garden Walk and beg an invitation to Dyngus Day, which apparently includes a parade, as well as much Buffalo-style imbibing.)

Me, I live for my spring bulbs, but the earliest ones, the species irises and species crocuses, went by too fast in the heat. If the tulips were just to bloom for a week and then have done with it…I would be very sad indeed.  Photo-10‘Purple Prince’ tulips, a full month early

It was so mild that the even the excellent British science magazine NewScientist has noticed our weather and dubbed it “summer in March.”  NewScientist suggests that warming water in the Gulf of Mexico may be to blame for the March heatwave in the Northeast.

It was nice while it lasted, but this week things are more normal, with temperatures dipping to 25 degrees at night and gloves required even in the daytime. Of course, once you’ve taken those gloves off, it’s hard to put them back on! You’d rather just risk a little chapping and bleeding. The plants around here all feel the same way.  Photo-9We count on this tree

The most magnificent piece of borrowed landscape in my neighborhood is a huge Magnolia soulangeana in front of a Queen Anne mansion. I was unhappy this week to see that many of its fat buds are brown and dried-out looking from frost damage.

I’ll be disappointed if this doesn’t work.

In my own yard, the little magnolia I stuck into the shadiest corner in the place is sensibly sulking and waiting until the sun gets higher in the sky to bloom.  My peach trees also, in the warmest and sunniest possible spot on my hell strip, are waiting for more certain conditions to bloom.

But this apricot has totally lost its head:


I don’t know that I’ll ever get fruit off of such an impulsive tree.


  1. The saucer magnolia’s in my town put out a magnificent display for a day and a half before being frozen into brown decaying things on the branches. Let’s face it, that particular kind of magnolia is not tolerant of a “late” frost so it is a risky proposition here anyway. But wow they were decimated this year.

    My daffodils should be relied upon to give a good 2 months of joy, but this year they have been shocked into overdrive by the heat. We could have 2 months of the “inbetween” with nothing to look at.

  2. I spent my morning walk mentally designing jackets for early blooming trees. We have snow and freezing rain forecasted for tonight. My little plum tree and its gorgeous while blossoms needs suitable attire.

  3. My bluberries are already in full bloom…luckily there seems to be an active beehive nearby, so there has been pollination of some ilk. Redbuds bloomed & are dying back, neighborhood magnolias gone. All the Cleveland pears are in full “snowball” bloom. Swear I saw some cottonwood fluff drifting in the breeze. Our little urban section of Cleveland usually has some earlier blooming plants, but this is ridiculous! It’s like Zone 7B in our parts, rather than the 6B we usually have. (Oh, and the KnockOut roses? Never stopped blooming since last spring.)

  4. We have stuff blooming ridiculously early, but so far no frost damage – and no frosts in the forecast. I do wonder though if some plants have bloomed before their normal pollinators were out and about, resulting in reduced fruit set. This seems to have happened to my spicebush.

  5. In Michigan near Ann Arbor we set an all time record high last week for the state in March, 86 degrees. We woke to 29 degrees this morning. At the moment we have daffodils, forsythia, quince, magnolias, PJ Rhododendrons, redbuds, and pears all blooming while my tulips have not broke bud yet. I also have peas up in the darden at least two inches and my beets are up at least an inch. Just sayin

  6. My blueberries were blooming in December. And I had an iris bloom for Christmas. Insane, even for our mild-winter climate (CA’s Central Valley).

    Apricots always bloom first around here, even before the wild plums & pears. And sometimes we do lose the crop because of that. This year we were warm & dry through January. Then as soon as trees started budding – BLAM ! A one-two punch of rain & freezing temps. I guess I should be grateful they didn’t arrive together, right ? But when your peach tree is in bloom through a week-long rainy spell, it’s hard to find any gratitude.

  7. It’s not just the US who’s having an early summer (although not quite as extreme), I’m in Paris and we’ve been having bright sun-shiny days for three weeks now. We have had cool nights, but still, this is May, not March weather, and my tulips have also bloomed so early I moved them to the darkest and coldest part of my terrace, there is an upside to container gardening.

  8. My saucer magnolia was magnificent last week – Tuesday morning, it looked like the end of November. So sad. It’s also very strange that I’m seeing some flowers in my garden that typically don’t bloom until late April-early May, such as pulmonaria and grape hyacinth. I even have a poet’s narcissus out today! Unbelievable.

  9. It’s exactly the same here in the UK. A run of exceptionally warm, sunny days but frosty nights damaging growing tips of plants and destroying blossoms. Each evening at our nursery, when the customers have gone home we have to run around laying fleece blankets over the plants. I have learnt from an expert fuit grower that Apricots do very well on north walls. They bloom later so don’t suffer frost damage but still produce fruit.

  10. It’s effectively summer here. We had a frost warning a few days ago, but it didn’t do anything locally. The spring ephemerals are trying to bloom and are just getting steam-rollered by plants that never bothered to really go dormant in the first place. It’s kinda nuts. I could have planted out tomatoes in early March. (I didn’t, but I could have!)

  11. As long as we don’t get a hard freeze I will tolerate this off kilter rush into May. We can just skip April. The Saucer Magnolia here bloomed and has leafed out in my newly defined 6a/b zone at 4000′ up.

  12. In the midwest (Iowa) we’re a full month ahead, our bradford pears are winding down and the crabs in full bloom, the ephemerals (bluebells, dutchmen’s breeches, etc) will be done before mid-April. But so far the least we’ve seen is mid-30s, and Sunday is supposed to be in the 80s again. !!!!

  13. I have not seen much frost damage here after the long warm spell followed by a bit of cold, but, i have had to water my all-container garden several times already. We have had almost no rain and on top of the almost no precipitation of winter, i am very worried about the trees and bushes in general. I usually don’t provide supplemental water here in Bristol, PA just above Philly until May even in my container garden….

  14. Elizabeth, my apricot is planted on the north side of my house–but nonetheless behaving in a crazy, self-destructive fashion.

  15. Seattle, WA seems to have a 10 month mud season, sigh. Happily, it doesn’t stop me from getting out there and growing food 12 months out of the year. It just takes cold frames, cloches, a lot of mulch and an insane affliction to go play in the (muddy)dirt.

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