Do you think spring is close at hand? You might if you only looked at recent temperatures and not the calendar. As I write this, Denver broke records with a reading of 80°F while we hit highs of upper 60s to lower 70s!
But rest assured, winter is not soon to be over and if you wait a minute, snows and cold temperatures will return. That is the nature of living in Colorado. A better question might be how these warm winter temperatures will affect our gardens? Regardless of your beliefs about climate change, we are generally experiencing warmer winter temperatures.
I know that some things already are happening early in my garden. The daffodils are emerging from under a heavy layer of mulch and the buds of my aspens that will produce catkins are already swelling and cracking.
So what are some of the problems we might face with unseasonably warm temperatures often followed by cold spells? Early swelling of fruit tree buds could portend earlier flowering of apricots, peaches and cherries. This could make them more vulnerable to later frost damage. If this happens, I would delay pruning stone fruit trees to get an idea of potential frost damage to flowers. Then you would prune but avoid removing wood with flowers that don't show damage.
I would also caution you about getting anxious to plant early during these warm winter days. There is still plenty of winter left and we really need consistently warm temperatures for our gardens to grow well.
I would not plant trees or shrubs during these warm winter periods, especially if the ground remains frozen beneath the surface. Frozen ground will inhibit root growth and could lead to winter kill of spring buds through desiccation. It also is more difficult to water frozen ground properly. Newly planted trees and shrubs need water to make it to spring. But too much water will smother the roots.
We often rely on cold weather to suppress insect pests that are overwintering as eggs, pupae and even as adults and nymphs. So if warmer weather patterns persist, be ready for more pest problems later in the season.
Bulbs such as crocus, daffodils and tulips often emerge early when warm winter days rule. But don't be overly concerned. You might have flowers frozen out but rarely are the plant's survival affected.
What is most important is to apply a thick mulch over bulbs and around woody perennials once the ground has cooled down and even frozen. This will insulate bulbs and the roots of perennials from widely fluctuating temperatures, preventing early emergence and bud break. At higher elevations, persistent snows act as mulches. Unfortunately, our recent bout of warm weather has all but melted the snow away, unless you live at higher elevations.
With warm weather, our usual snows arrive as rains that are better moisture providers than snow. But these same warm days and rains have created a mess in my yard with heavy deer traffic causing a virtual quagmire. Oh well. We live in Colorado, what's really not to like?
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.