Nancy Brachey

Unusual winter blooms should delight us

Knock Out roses continue to bloom in the Charlotte area due to the warm weather.
Knock Out roses continue to bloom in the Charlotte area due to the warm weather. Observer file

Can you believe it? Roses for New Year’s Day. Blooming, beautiful roses along the sidewalks, in front of signs, living it up as if it’s June instead of January.

While people talk a lot about the temperature these days, I am more amazed by the plant life.

Flowers that should have faded and gone weeks ago are still lovely. Hints of others that should not open for weeks, such as forsythia and even irises, show some color.

The Encore azaleas are my favorite example of lingering lovelies. Flowers began to open in early autumn and they are still with us, kept going by cool nights and mild days. This does not make them seasonal misfits, but rather something to cherish and enjoy. And don’t tell me those pale pinks, autumn corals and vivid oranges look off-season, even weird. I like them. I hope you do, too.

Knock Out roses are another example. Mild weather in November and December kept the plants from slinking into winter dormancy, and regular rain urged on fresh growth that bore new buds and flowers, which we still see and enjoy.

And camellias are having the time of their lives.

The fall-flowering ones such as Yuletide have no damage from harsh weather, and the winter-flowering ones such as Professor Sargent and Lady Clare are opening with all the glory one expects from them. Both have been reliable winter bloomers, but sometimes, like last winter, get harmed by deep freezes that ruin the open blooms, the most susceptible part of a plant to cold damage.

Foliage of flower bulbs such as daffodils is popping up, a worry to some gardeners. But this foliage is very hardy and will not be damaged by cold weather. It is more likely to be harmed by wayward footsteps. Once colder weather arrives, it will stop rising.

Of course, a deep freeze, of 25 degrees and below, will arrive one of these days. Hopefully, there will be a slow slide down the thermometer that will encourage plants that are not dormant – the Knock Out roses, for example – to move into winter dormancy and stay there.

Without dormancy, a sudden drop to really cold weather may result in freeze damage to the cells filled with water inside stems and leaves, but that can be pruned away in late winter ahead of the next growing season.

Another downside for some people is the loss of later bloom from buds on plants such as forsythia that opened already this winter.

Fortunately, these out-of-season blooms tend to be few in number, leaving the vast amount of buds closed and safe. The Encores, however, are a different story. Flowers you see now were meant to open for autumn and lingered into winter. Buds of the spring flowers remain closed and should bloom on time.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My yellow bell bush has grown really high and wide. Is it too late to prune it back?

A. It is too early to prune it. If you prune a forsythia now, you will remove all of the buds that will produce this spring’s flowers. Unless the plant is somehow hazardous, don’t prune it until after the flowers bloom, usually in March.

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