Besides that rogue pre-Halloween Nor’easter, fall in Philadelphia has been quite the prolonged affair this year. Weekend after beautiful weekend has made it possible to plant each
last bulb and rake every fallen leaf. And it’s still nice out- let’s wash the windows! Air out the basement, put up more Christmas lights than usual, and give the sidewalks one last good sweep- maybe even a power wash. Since spring troublemakers like lesser celandine and ornithagalum are already sprouting, and since we’re already outside, we might as well do some weeding too.
It’s not just the weeds that are getting a false start on their spring growth, of course. The hostas that turned to slime after the first early frost have put out new leaves. Forsythia blossoms are starting to open, as are a few flowers on the winter jasmine. Rosebuds are opening too, and the bulbs I planted just a couple of weeks ago are already beginning to sprout.
Does it hurt plants to be so tricked by the weather, to either keep growing and blooming too long, or start up way too early?
Well, probably it’s not great. A lot of plants need a period of dormancy, particularly if they are to put on a big show of flowers the following year. And while pushing out more growth late in the season in theory means that a plant could store more energy and become stronger, the fact that this new growth is likely to get frozen off after just a few weeks of life seems like it could end up being a net zero for the plant, at best.
Hand-wringing about the fates of our overly precocious gardens is one option, but why go there? It’s an uncontrollable phenomenon (although some argue that it’s very controllable if as a planet we made some different energy decisions) and the agitation could be put to better use. Split more firewood! Paint the trim around the back door, and spread a little more compost before it gets dark.
I know when winter finally gets here it will feel just as long as it always does, but I have to admit I’m getting really excited to go inside for a couple of months.