Nancy Szerlag 2015 Article

Gardening: Wacky weather sends wrong signals to plants

Nancy Szerlag, Special to The Detroit News     December 31, 2015

The leaves of spring blooming bulbs are emerging in many gardens thanks to the unseasonably warm winter weather. That’s not unusual and it shouldn’t keep the bulbs from flowering in spring, although they may bloom a week or so early. The leaves grow separately from the flowers and the blooms need many weeks of cold to stimulate growth – anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks, depending on the flower type. Tulips take the longest.

If you find a bag of bulbs that were overlooked during fall planting and they are still firm, get them in the ground ASAP. The good news is the soil is not quite frozen so digging holes will be easy. Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs says at this time of year plant them a bit deeper than recommended.

I’ve also had reports of forsythia blooming and big leaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) producing bud swell. There’s little we can do when Mother Nature gives us 60-degree weather in December. If we get another warm-up before the ground freezes you should consider watering late season plantings as we are several inches short on rain and snowfall and the roots of trees and shrubs have continued to grow and take up moisture in the balmy weather.

There is still time to spread mulch over the garden beds – about 3 inches will do it. To deter mice and voles from making nests, scatter granular Plantskydd animal repellant over the surface of the mulch.

To protect shrubs and trees from deer over the winter, I spray them with liquid Plantskydd. There are several animal repellants on the market, but they wash away and do not provide winter protection. Plantskydd lasts up to 6 months in winter and 4 months in summer. Spraying the trunks of trees and branch tips of shrubs will keep deer from nibbling and buck rubbing.

Rabbits and voles will also avoid feeding on the trunks of shrubs and trees sprayed with Plantskydd, so be sure to spray the bases including the stems of roses. To keep squirrels from raiding bird feeders, I tie little organza candy bags available at craft stores, filled with ¼ of granular Plantskydd, to the pole. If you’re crafty and like to recycle, you can make little bags by sewing a couple of used dryer sheets together.

Plantskydd is available at all English Gardens stores, Steinkopf Nursery in Farmington Hills, Uncle Luke’s in Troy and American Tree in Almont. For other Michigan dealers, check out their website at /repellent.html.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.




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