March 20, 2017 /
Jona Elwell

What’s In Store for Trees After All This Wacky Weather?

Remember when we wore tee-shirts in February and it was 70 degrees? Now that we’re melting out from a snowstorm, that seems far away. If you think you are thrown off by the weird weather lately, imagine how the trees are reacting!

With an unusually warm February and the early onset of spring, trees began blooming far ahead of schedule. Researchers noted there were two possible outcomes of the early bloom: high and low temperature swings could mean forming blooms are more susceptible to stresses, or they could extend the length of the blooming season.

So when temperature’s dropped into the twenties and we received an (unwelcome) blanket of snow in early March, already blooming trees became somewhat of a live experiment in how their species handle severe weather changes. Overall the colder weather could mean less of a show for spring-blooming ornamentals (like our famous cherry trees) and could nip back new leafy growth. However, generally the plants should be able to outgrow the damage. Even still, this was not welcome news for the beloved cherry blossoms and sensitive magnolias.

The hard freeze last week transformed the delicate, fragrant flowers of magnolia trees in wilted, brown piles in less than a day. And the fate of our cherry blossoms? Considering temperatures below 27 degrees kill about 10 percent of the blossoms and at 24 degrees or lower, about 90 percent of the pink petals die, their peak bloom status is uncertain. However, some of the trees that were in the near-peak stage made it through the freeze unharmed.

That is great news for blossom watchers, but will the cherry blossoms suffer the same fate as the frozen magnolia blooms? Can they survive the repetitive hard freezes? We should know the answer soon. After all, if we do not reach peak bloom, that will be for the first time in their 105-year history. Regardless of the cherry trees and their bloom’s fate, this certainly been a spring of firsts.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.