''My hellebores are blooming,'' a friend told me last week.
I think mine are too, although I haven't taken the walk out to the backyard garden yet to find out.
I can see them from my kitchen window and from there, they look to be standing quite tall. Sometimes this time of year, when I get tired of snow and cold, I will bundle up and meander out to the hellebores patch to see what's going on. After brushing off the snow, I can usually expect to see wet, wilted leaves on top of soggy soil. I also might see new growth pushing its way up from the center of the mushy leaves. These are the leaves I start trimming away in early March. As happy as I am that I'm seeing new growth, I can't say I'm thrilled to see upright stalks in February, let alone flowers.
Hellebores don't mind the cold weather and will often bloom while there is still snow on the ground, but that doesn't usually happen in my garden until late March or early April. Not February.
I did go out near the front garden last week to help the husband carry a rather large woodworking project to his truck. While we maneuvered the piece through the doorway, down the step and into the truck bed, I found myself stepping gingerly over sprouting hyacinths. Hyacinths bloom early in my yard. I've taken photos of pastel blossoms with a light dusting of snowflakes on their petals. I've seen flowers wilt during heavy snowfalls only to stand up straight the next day when the sun came out. I've seen these things in April, however. Not February.
So now I'm beginning to wonder how this mild winter and seemingly early spring might affect the plants in my garden.
I'm not worried about the hellebores. If they're blooming now, they will likely continue to bloom into spring, although if we do have some heavy winter blasts after all, I expect them to lay down a bit, but I have confidence they will come back.
The bulbs could be another story. I use the term ''bulbs'' loosely to describe crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, among others, because not all of these plants are true bulbs, but you know what I mean. Bulbs will grow and bloom not only when the light and temperature is adequate for them, but also in response to their cold period. Each variety needs a different cold period to break dormancy. This is why snowdrops, crocus and hyacinths are early and daffodils and tulips are later. Some bulbs need longer cold periods than others. These cold periods can be anywhere from 12 weeks to four months.
It is easy to trick bulbs into breaking dormancy by putting them in cold, dark storage for a period of time and then giving them adequate periods of light. But I'm not worried about the bulbs ability to bloom this spring because I believe, even with our mild winter, we've had adequate cold temperatures for their dormancy requirements. What worries me is the lack of snow and deep cold that would keep the plant underground for a while longer.
Breaking ground early won't kill the bulbs. Their leaves are built to handle the cold, too, although they might turn brown on their tips, and a heavy snowstorm might cause them to go the way of the hellebores leaves and turn mushy and wilt. It won't kill the bulbs. What it might do, however, is force the plant into an early bloom, which will likely be smaller and less vigorous than usual.
The biggest issue with our mild winter, I think, will be the spring flowering shrubs. Similar to the late, hard frost we had a few years ago that ruined most of the spring blossoms, early spring-like temperatures will force the plants' flower buds to swell and even encourage them to open too early.
If we do get a blast of Arctic air after the buds have prepared for spring, they could end up being killed. The flower buds on our spring shrubs, such as lilac, forsythia, rhododendron and early dogwoods, were actually set last fall. They won't regrow this year once they are frozen. Although some might survive a freeze, we won't have the multitudes of blooms we expect to see on our trees in spring.
While I have been loving this mild winter and lack of snow, I can't deny that it might make a difference in what we see in our gardens in April and May. Of course, we could continue this mild weather all the way into May and that would be fine, but we live in northeast Ohio and we never really know what we're going to get during the changing of the seasons.