Risky Weather
Will Spring Tulips Survive?

— What Scientists Say —

During warm spells in mid- or late winter, tulips often poke out and even bloom weeks ahead of time. Should Journey North gardeners worry? Just how much cold can tulips stand?

Here's a hint: These hardy plants developed in cold mountainous regions in Central Asia. If they didn't have adaptations that let them toughen up, they wouldn't have survived! They can handle much of what "mother nature" dishes out . . .

Snow: Tulips can grow and bloom even if there is still snow on the ground. (Although they could be crushed by a heavy snowfall.)

Frost: Frost occurs on clear still nights when the temperature at ground level drops below 32 degrees. Without clouds to act as a blanket, the earth loses heat to the atmosphere. When air near the surface cools to where it can no longer hold water vapor, the vapor can freeze on plant surfaces.

But because freezing water releases energy, the temperature doesn't go much below freezing. Tulips can usually handle these temperatures with no problem.

Freeze: A freeze is when cold, Arctic air moves into a region. The air is much colder than freezing, there is often wind, and the humidity is very low. Some tulips (and tulip parts) can survive this and others are damaged (by freezing or drying out). But even a tulip with damaged leaves can go on to bloom, as long as the bud isn't hurt.

Try This! Frost or Freeze?
Pay attention to your local weather forecast and temperatures in your garden. Do conditions sound right for a frost or freeze? Can you predict when either one might happen? How accurate were your predictions?

Photo Credits (2 righthand photos): Suzanne DeJohn