My trees are beginning to flower — can you tell me what is happening?

Published 7:18 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

Have you noticed azaleas in bloom? Have you seen pecan trees that are flushing out new growth? How about Bradford pears in full bloom? If you know anything about gardening, then you know this is not the right season for these plants to be in bloom! What is happening? Is it global warming? While global warming is a real thing, we can’t blame it this time!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” I believe this year, nature has gotten a little impatient! I have seen all of the aforementioned issues in travelling throughout my four-county area in eastern North Carolina. In the words of my 10-year-old son, “But why?”

We have experienced a pretty hefty amount of wind, rain and flooding from Hurricane Florence and a bit more from Michael. These storms wreak havoc on our trees, shrubs and other landscape plants, causing them great stress. What we are seeing is a response to that stress on the plants.

North Carolina State University Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Barbara Fair describes it like this: “Late winter and spring flowering trees and shrubs begin to develop new flower buds for the following year after they finish flowering and during the summer when they are in full leaf. There is a complex relationship between flowering response, plant hormones and plant chemistry. Day length and temperature play an important role in when plants flower in general, and when seasons change, plants respond by altering their internal chemistry and hormone levels. This is normal, but when storms come through and change the conditions directly around the plant, it can trigger an unusual response, such as plants blooming out of season. The storm can lead to stress which leads to a change in the plant’s hormone levels and chemistry. Thus, plants bloom at strange times and may even produce leaves where others were lost.”

So, what should we expect in the spring? Will the plants bloom again? Will my trees have any leaves? Flowering trees and shrubs may bloom again but this will be from blooms that were not spent right now. There is not time nor will conditions be adequate to develop new blooms over the winter. The trees and shrubs may exhibit patchy or sparse foliage in the spring, as well, if they have leafed out this fall. Not to worry, however, a tree that was otherwise healthy will soon flush out new foliage to fill in before summer is fully underway. There will be no permanent damage. However, this spring season may be a few blooms short of a full bouquet!

Register now for the “What You Need To Know So You Can Grow” educational series taught at the Beaufort Extension Center this October to learn more about Soil, Growing Vegetables, Growing Fruit, Turf Management, Diseases and Pests of Ornamentals. This series will be taught on Thursdays beginning Oct. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and conclude on Nov. 1. The cost is $10 per class ($15 at the door); those attending all of the classes will earn the Blacklands Area Friends of Horticulture “HomeGrown” certification and a free gardening guide published by the Extension master gardener volunteers in Beaufort County. To register, contact Sam Bowden at the Beaufort County Extension office by calling at 252-946-0111.

If you have a question to submit, please email to Gene Fox at Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road!

Gene Fox is the area agriculture and consumer horticulture agent for Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties.