False Spring: How to Care for Your Garden

False Spring: How to Care for Your Garden

By Michael Jenkins

With much of the US and Canada recovering from record-setting cold weather, now’s a good time to talk about how to handle the variable and occasionally extreme weather that this time of year can bring.  Variable weather and wide temperature swings can be a real challenge for gardeners, especially if they result in a false spring. A brief period of warm temperatures during late winter, false springs may be a welcome break from freezing temperatures but they can pose some challenges for plants and gardens. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to protect your spaces from the potential damage following a false spring, so let’s dig in!

False springs bring some obvious changes in the pace of winter weather: snow and ice may thaw and melt, temperatures may move back into a more comfortable zone, and it may genuinely feel like winter has come to an end. However, as comfortable as a false spring may feel, winter will likely return in force and that is the source of the potential problems a false spring brings to your garden. During a false spring, plants may start to wake up from their winter dormancy. Perennial flowering plants may start to peek out of the ground, and trees and shrubs may start to put out new growth or even flower buds. While this may be pretty to see, it can cause problems when temperatures drop again. Delicate new growth or new shoots may be damaged or even killed off by a return of winter temperatures, which can in turn stunt later growth when spring arrives in earnest. Fruit trees are especially vulnerable—a false spring in 2012 caused $500 million dollars in damage and losses to orchards in Michigan!

So, if you’re in the middle of a false spring what can you do to protect your plants and your garden? We’ve written before about caring for plants in various kinds of extreme weather, and while all of that advice stands there are some special considerations for a false spring:


  • Don’t fall for it! Keep an eye on the weather report, know your space and your local climate, and be aware that this warming period is a false spring and not the real thing. Resist the urge to start transplanting or seeding, leave the garden toolsalone for now, and focus on supporting your outdoor plants during and after this brief warm period.
  • Take this opportunity to water your plants! Just because a false spring isn’t the real thing, doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of it. Now’s a fine time to water your plants while the weather is nicer and the soil is warmer. Watering during a warm snap helps keep plants healthy by avoiding temperature shock and reduces the chance of mold forming around the roots. As an added bonus, moist soil holds heat better than dry soil, so by watering you’ll help your plants transition gently and gradually back to cold weather.
  • Consider giving your indoor plants some outside time. If you’re wintering plants indoors, consider moving them outside and letting them enjoy the warm air and sunshine for a bit. Even given them a few hours outdoors when the temperatures are at their peak and then moving them back inside can help their health and encourage growth.

  • Get ready to protect your outdoor plants! Your perennials, bushes, shrubs, and trees may need a little help in the wake of a false spring. While you may not be able to save the buds and new foliage they’ve put out during the warm period, you might be able to protect them enough to help them save energy and avoid serious damage. This, in turn, can help them bounce back when true spring arrives. Row covers, mobile greenhouses, plant covers, and the like can all help protect your plants when winter returns.

False springs can be both a blessing and an annoyance—they offer a nice break from the winter but they can cause some challenges for our plants and gardens. It’s important to remember that false springs are part of the natural cycle of life in the garden and just another manifestation of the changing seasons. Do the best you can, learn the lessons that this time of year is teaching you, and continue to grow as a gardener.

And get in touch with us! Gardzen is all about community and we love hearing from you, so find us on social media, drop us an email, or just leave a comment below. Let us know how you’re doing, how your garden is doing, and what plans you have for the spring!

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