iris.jpg“Bloom events” is a term used by biologists, phenologists, and other plant scientists when they discuss when plants bloom. And this year, they must be noticing several weird bloom events occurring in our area!

As most of you know, we’ve just gone through a very very dry winter. Yes, drier even than normal for here. As (seemingly) the rest of the country had record snow accumulations, we had one of our driest winters on record. Add to that the fairly warm winter temperatures along with plenty of spring wind and you’ve got gardeners scratching their heads as some of their hardiest plants have disappeared while wimpier (or so they thought) plants have come through unscathed.Now we gardeners are used to going through the “what did I lose” phase in our early spring gardens. However, this year, we’re going through “why is that blooming now?” and “why isn’t that blooming yet?” exercises. Some surprising things have happened (and are continuing to happen) with plant bloom times. Tall bearded irises and old fashioned lilacs have been reported blooming as early as mid-to-late April. This is about a month earlier than lilacs usually bloom. Bearded irises usually don’t bloom until late May at the earliest in Colorado Springs (Denver usually has blooms consistently a week or two earlier than Colorado Springs). Meanwhile, some spring bulbs like tulips are waiting a few weeks longer than normal to bloom.

It’s interesting that not ALL lilacs and ALL irises are blooming early. And not ALL tulips are blooming late. These bloom events are occurring in spotty pockets throughout the city. What’s going on?!

Only the plants know. We can always be sure that whatever plants are doing, they are doing in the spirit of furthering their kind. They want the best shot at reproducing each year and will adjust whatever they can to better their chances. For some native plants growing in the wild, this can mean taking a year or two (or more) off during droughts until conditions favor bloom, seed set, seed dispersal, and germination. Most of the plants in our local gardens are cultivated varieties, and gardeners don’t usually give them the option of taking a year off. We water, fertilize, and try to provide whatever will coax them to provide the blooms we want (and then we usually deadhead the blooms before the plants get the chance to reproduce – the only thing they want to do!). Perhaps this year, some plants growing in especially warm microclimates figure the dry winter and spring winds mean there will be a shorter window of opportunity for reproduction, so they better get to it! While some of the spring bulbs didn’t get the moisture they wanted, so they decided to lie low until we got a bit of rain to coax them out of the ground.

Whatever reason for these phenomena, once again our gardens are teaching us that we can’t always be in control. Sometimes, all we can do is wonder.

Have you seen any weird bloom events this spring?

Submitted by Carey Harrington, Certified Colorado Gardener and Colorado Native Plant Master