David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
It’s bloomin’ cold
A few flowers take their cue in February
February is that middle month, half way between winter and spring. The odds are that there will be a warm spell as well as some bone-chilling temperatures. But the key aspect is that spring is around the corner.
When you think of February, you tend to think of Valentine’s Day flowers, which have been touched on in this column more than enough times to fully paper the inside of any bird cage. We don’t need to do that again.
(Okay, for those of you who are saying “Wait, I forgot to read those years ago” or are saying “Well, I didn’t have anyone to give flowers to back then,” just remember clean vase, no foliage in the water, change the water every two or three days, and flowers will eventually die. Longer than a twitter.)
February blesses us with some blooms, especially if the temperatures hit the 40s and 50s for some days but not the subzero.
Granted, where you live in Illinois also has an influence. Southern folks are bound to see more blooms than those bordering Wisconsin. Daffodils may be popping out in Cairo while the snow blankets Belvidere.
But unless an arctic cold front decides to hover over the state the entire month, we are bound to see some plants start to bloom, provided you have them in your yard.
Therein lies one of the problems. If you didn’t plant daffodils, there are good chances there won’t be any popping up. It’s not one of those things that birds or animals transfer from place to place. Somebody has to plant them.
That’s especially true with some of the minor bulbs.
Winter aconites, with their buttercup yellow flowers will peek through an inch of snow like little yellow spots, which upon reflection, may make you look closer especially if you have dogs and cats in the area. However, the yellow is really vivid so you shouldn’t confuse it with anything else.
The winter aconites (Eranthis) can naturalize and fill in an area. When the temperatures are warm, the leaves and flowers are like umbrellas with many of the yellow petals spreading out like spokes above the green. However, if we get a cold snap, everything closes up tight, just like collapsing the umbrella.
To be honest, most people look at winter aconites and think “Oh, aren’t they just cute and precious.” It’s hard not to. About the only way to avoid that effect is to plant them en masse. Lots and lots and lots of them.
Snowdrops are another early spring bulb. The white flowers hang upside down, almost as if they are ashamed to be blooming early. If you look close enough, you’ll see a little bit of green on the inner parts. Unfortunately, if the flowers bloom when it’s snowing, it takes a good pair of eyes to see the white against the white. If you remember to plant them next fall, place them close to an outside door.
Hellebores also are wonderful late winter plants that seem to keep blooming on and on, though in reality the flowers have just dried and not fallen off.
Many times, the foliage dies during the summer and rejuvenates in the fall. Throughout the winter, you may see green leaves, just like on some of the unrelated arums.
The English have a love affair with the hellebores like we do with hostas. Both prefer the shade.
Finally, witchhazels will start producing swollen buds that may or may not open depending on the temperatures. The peppercorn-sized buds will start to swell to pea-size, and then navy bean. Soon, you’ll see the thread-like yellow to orange to red petals unfurl.
Like the winter aconites, if the temperatures turn cold again, the petals will fold back into a tight cluster.
Relish February if you have these plants. If not, make a list now so you can plant the witchhazels and hellebores this spring, and the bulbs next fall.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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