ELi ON EARTH: Earliest Flowers Are Out in EL

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Monday, April 25, 2016, 7:50 am
Aron Sousa

Photo of a snowdrop flower with a honeybee in the author's East Lansing yard this past weekend


This past Friday’s equinox marked the beginning of the astronomical spring season, although usually it takes the climate of East Lansing a couple of weeks to catch up to the calendar. But the warm days of the last couple of weeks have brought on some spring blooms to coincide with the appearance of spring on this year’s calendar.

Most gardeners plan for a few early blooms in spring, including classics like snowdrops and crocus species. A quick survey of the gardens of East Lansing reveals these two early risers are up and out of their beds. Above is a photo of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and below a photo of crocuses in the author’s yard as seen this weekend. (Article continues after image.)

Early spring flowers not only improve the mood of a gardener, other animals use them as well. There are already pollinators out and about in East Lansing. The photo of the snowdrop above includes an intrepid honeybee gathering nectar. Neither the honeybee nor the snowdrop are native to East Lansing, but to the benefit of each, they have found each other.

Other early plants include the Helleborus species (Lenten rose) and heath (the genus Erica). Both of these plants are evergreen and will flower as they emerge from the snow. Heath is nearly indistinguishable from its cousin, heather (the genus Calluna), which has more scaly leaves and is able to withstand colder winters.

The picture of the heath in the author’s yard, below, shows the needle evergreen leaves of heath and the lovely flowers which begin the spring white and will turn purple as they age through the summer.  (Article continues after image.)

In most years the Helleborus put on a good spring show, but a quick survey of my yard and my neighbor’s yard (the Sperber-Thongers, who are excellent gardeners and staff of ELi) reveals that this winter was pretty tough on the Helleborus nation. Not a single flower to be found, and some pretty rough looking foliage.

Finally, this is the time to force Forsythia and quince (genus Cydonia) flowers indoors. “Forcing” is the process of making cuttings of the plant bloom earlier than they would on the plant. The process of forcing is as simple as cutting the stems and putting them in water in the warmth of the house. If you cut the stems well before they would naturally bloom, the process will work better if you keep the cuttings in the dark until the buds begin to swell.

The quince bud shown in the picture below, and any forsythia cut now, will not need to be put in the dark in order to be forced to bloom. Later blooming trees and shrubs, like crab apple, will likely need the period of darkness if you cut them now. (Article continues after image.)

Finally, below you see a photo of full-blooming ornamental quince in the author’s yard in a spring past.

[Note: this article originally appeared in ELi on March 22, 2015]

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