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November 29, 2014

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Garden fairies cause early blooms


It’s as though I have a little garden fairy sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear saying, “It’s going to be a dry summer. There’s no rain in the forecast. Keep watering.” Those same garden fairies must be talking to some of the plants, too, encouraging them to bloom early and set seed before they dry up and die.

I have so far noticed earlier than normal blooms on asters, sneezeweed (Helenium), goldenrod and tall phlox. Under normal conditions, I would not expect to see the first flower buds on these plants until late July. But something, maybe the drier than normal conditions, is giving them cues to bloom now and set seed. After all, that’s the goal of flowering plants – to flower and set seed to make sure their species continues. That is why when some flowering plants are under stress, whether from drought or poor growing conditions, they will sometimes bloom earlier than normal.

Gardeners can use this knowledge to their advantage to force plants to bloom. For example, we can hold back on high nitrogen fertilizers, which keep many plants “fat and happy” and flush with foliage, but does little to encourage blooms. Or, we can let a plant get pot bound, which can help to trigger it to bloom more fully, or we can hold back on watering, as long as the plant gets enough water to stay alive.

There’s nothing I can do now about the early blooms on these late blooming plants except water them and enjoy the flowers. One of my favorite flowers, which shouldn’t be blooming now, is a dwarf goldenrod, Solidago hybrida- ‘Little Lemon.’ I planted it on the edge of a garden border that is filled with plants that are all supposed to be in peak bloom in August.

Fortunately, ‘Little Lemon’ should continue to bloom over a long period of time, so it may still be in bloom later in the summer when the flowers around it make their appearance. Or the flowers around it may also bloom early, depending on the weather and what those little garden fairies tell them to do.

Author: Carol Michel

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