December warmth, confused plants

Yesterday I wandered around outside to see how plantings are reacting to the December warmth blanketing Connecticut. December has been unusually warm; yesterday’s daytime temperature reached the low 60’s, today’s is forecast to possibly reach 70 degrees F. The soil remains workable, plants are confused.

lilac buds swelling in Connecticut's December 2015 warmth

lilac buds swelling in Connecticut’s December 2015 warmth

Though no spring-blooming bulbs are peeking out of the ground, lilac buds are greening and swelling as if preparing to open.

Leaf tips on the young serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis ‘Rainbow Pillar’) tree show hints of opening.

leatherleaf viburnum, December 2015

leatherleaf viburnum, December 2015


Leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum) leaves are still fresh and full, holding a spring-green hue rather than the darker green they take on during winter’s cold.

swelling buds of star magnolia, December 2015

swelling buds of star magnolia, December 2015

swelled bud of star magnolia, December 2015

swelled bud of star magnolia, December 2015


Buds of the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) have likewise swelled, looking more like they should in early spring than early winter.

And this December warmth has enticed area cherry trees into bloom. It’s very strange to see a pink cherry tree in December in Connecticut.




Perennials are also confused …

fresh daylily growth, December 2015

fresh daylily growth, December 2015

Fresh daylily leaves are peeking through the leftover, browned foliage of this year’s growth.


early winter, 2015, scabiosa bloom

early winter, 2015, scabiosa bloom






And, this type-a personality scabiosa is still forcing out fresh blooms.

How will all this December warmth affect future blooms? The clocks of the perennials will reset once real winter weather blows in, but bud and leaf tip swelling of spring-blooming shrubs and small trees is disturbing.

Will the small flowers hiding inside these buds become damaged by this false start once cold temperatures hit? Many early spring-blooming shrubs form next season’s flowers before going into dormancy. Flower buds can be damaged when rapid temperature drops follow early warm weather that entices early-blooming shrubs to break dormancy.

The December warmth of the last few days is forecast to turn to more normal temperatures early next week. I’m hoping for a gradual cool-down, and cold that lasts until March. This gives perennials, shrubs, and trees the chance to rest before the spring awakening. But, if early spring flowers are sparse in 2016, I will think back to this December warmth and my confused plants.


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5 comments for “December warmth, confused plants

  1. December 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Your plants are further along than mine, but I’m seeing similar reactions.

    • December 26, 2015 at 9:07 am

      It will be very interesting to see how many early blooms open come spring 2016.

  2. December 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Although it has been cooler here than further south (or along the Maine coast), it has still been an exceptionally warm December (and November, and October and September). I have a May-blooming rhododendron that looks as though its flower buds are developing in ways that they shouldn’t at this time of year.

    • December 26, 2015 at 9:09 am

      There are cherry trees blooming around here, Jean. I’m bracing myself for few early spring blossoms next year.

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