As spring progresses, gardeners across Indiana wait patiently for their trees and shrubs to start showing signs of life. They search the tall branches for swelling leaf buds, tiny flowers, and other signs that their beloved trees have made it through another winter.
Trees and shrubs may show buds and flowers in the heart of winter if there's a sudden warming trend. Tree owners may panic when below-freezing temperatures follow because they worry about damage to the tender emerging buds.
If you have experienced something similar, here are three things you should know about trees, shrubs, and springtime dormancy.
1. Buds Rarely Break Before Their Time
Leaf buds on trees become prominent in spring, but the trees actually produced the buds during the past summer. The buds remain in a dormant state until certain triggers cause them to open at just the right time in spring.
Various hormones and enzymes are responsible for the development and bloom of the buds. These agents are activated by cold or hot temperatures. They respond to climate fluctuations by moderating precisely when the leaf buds open.
If one of your trees seems to be showing buds later than normal, it's probably fine. There are natural budding variations from year to year even in the same tree. Bud times may be weeks apart from one year to the next due to diverse environmental forces including drought and other stresses.
You may be concerned that early-showing leaf buds will be damaged by a late cold snap after a warm period. Most leaf buds won't open unless the tree has received an adequate number of hours below freezing temperatures. So even though an early warm period seems hazardous, it's not enough to make the leaves burst out of the buds too soon.
2. Trees and Shrubs Give Clues of Life
If your tree has been dormant for a while, you might wonder if it's still alive. When you have doubts about the health of a particular tree, you can use several methods to test whether it's still alive. These methods include the following.
Bend Small Branches
Live branches don't snap when bent. If you can reach twigs of the tree, try to gently bend smaller ones. If they break, your tree may be dead or dying.
Call a Tree Service
Your tree service has the equipment to check the overall health of the tree from the crown to the roots. If you have a particular tree that you're worried about, schedule an inspection of the tree to learn more about its health.
Perform a Scratch Test
A scratch test involves testing to see if the cambium of the tree is still alive. This layer is directly underneath the bark and should be a nice healthy green color. Start by using a clean fingernail to scrape a bit of bark off of a smaller branch.
If the cambium is brown, gray, or pale tan under the bark instead of green, check a few other branches to be sure. If they all seem dead, check the main trunk of the tree. Outer branches may have died over winter while the main tree is salvageable.
Force Spring-Flowering Shrubs
Forsythia and other spring-flowering shrubs can be checked for life by forcing the buds. Take cuttings of budded branches on warm days and set them indoors in water. In one to three weeks, the shoots should bloom if the shrubs are healthy.
3. Spring Arrives Earlier in Some Parts of Indiana
According to the National Phenology Network of the United States Geological Survey, parts of Southern Indiana are experiencing earlier onsets of spring each year. Some people in these areas of the state are seeing spring arrivals that are weeks ahead of their Northern Indiana neighbors.
Don't fret if your friends around the country are showing off their dogwoods and flowering cherries while you're still looking at bare branches and gray skies. Spring will arrive soon enough, and chances are very good that all the bright green leaves on your trees will show up, too.
Contact Above & Beyond Companies, Inc., to schedule a springtime inspection of your favorite trees and shrubs.