Field Questions: Trees already budding? Planting tulips in emergency situations, mowing the lawn in late fall – Forum
s: I have a cottonwood tree in the backyard that appears to be in its bud. What gives? It’s been a crazy year. – Larry K.
a: I agree – it’s been a crazy year for gardening. In a previous garden column, we discussed the somewhat unusual phenomenon this year of lilacs and apples blossoming in the fall.
Although it may appear that your cottonwood is starting to fall off by now in the fall, it is not; She’s preparing for next spring. Buds form along the twigs and branches each summer in preparation for the following year.
Leaf buds form the following year at the point where the leaves attach to the branches during the summer, but the buds are usually masked while the leaves are still intact. When the leaves fall, the buds are exposed.
Close examination of the branches of trees and shrubs at this time of year shows that the buds vary greatly in size and shape depending on the type of plant. Some buds are small, barely visible along the branches, others are large and dramatic.
The buds on some woody plant species are so plump in the fall, they appear ready to grow, even before winter. This is the case with most poplar trees, which is the genus to which your cottonwood belongs. Lilacs are another example, and their fat buds look like they could explode at any moment.
But these buds will not sprout now. Most trees and shrubs adapted to northern growing conditions require a certain number of cool days before leaf buds open. It is a self-preservation mechanism to prevent the buds from blooming and being killed during the January thaw.
Flower buds are not essential to the life of a tree or shrub, which is why they sometimes bloom outside of the normal season. On the other hand, leaf buds are urgently needed for survival and photosynthesis, so nature protects them.
Because poplars and other acclimatized woody plants have a long way to go before meeting the required number of cold days, the buds will appear ready for next spring, but will remain safely closed. Mother Nature will make sure, unless you mess up.
s: I ordered the tulips by mail, and they just arrived. Is it too late to plant or should it be stored somewhere until spring? – Christy W.
a: Most of our area has gotten a break from what feels like the beginning of winter. The soil of the area usually freezes sometime during the first half of November to the point where one can no longer insert a shovel into the ground to plant.
Fortunately, the previous freeze on the soil surface has thawed for many of us, allowing for some late emergency planting. If possible, planting late tulips is much better than trying to overwinter the bulbs elsewhere.
So, if you can stick a shovel in the ground, plant tulips and water them well afterwards. To best ensure success, add a 12-inch layer of leaf or straw protective mulch. This will delay the soil freezing, giving the tulips time to produce their shoot roots. Although not preferred, tulips are quite adaptable to late planting.
If your soil is already frozen, you can place your tulips in a container, place them in the freezer for 3 months, then place them in a sunny window to enjoy indoor winter blooms. Alternatively, try winterizing the bulbs for spring planting by storing them in the refrigerator, but they may not bloom until the following year when planted in spring.
s: I’ve never mowed my lawn in November, but it was so cute, I couldn’t resist. What is the recommended grass height to go into for the winter? – coffee beans.
a: I could get used to this kind of November! Like you, I’m mowing again, and our lawn has looked better over the past several months than it has all summer, and it still looks beautiful.
As we mentioned when we discussed lawn care, the recommended all-season mowing height is three inches. In the last several mowings, the height can be reduced to about 2 inches. Leaving grass too long or floppy can lead to snow mold and increased vole activity.
Cutting grass too short can increase the chance of winter dieback, which can occur during open winters with little or no snow cover combined with extremely cold temperatures.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at
. Broad appeal questions may be posted, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate advice.
(tags for translation)tulips