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Darrell Blackwelder column: Unusual weather causing November blooms

My wife, Gerrie, and I were traveling the Smokey Mountains last week on a “pandemic getaway daytrip.” I noticed something very odd about a small tree in a parking lot during our tour. A large flowering cherry was in full bloom. The mountainous area had an outdoor temperature of 27 degrees earlier that morning. Mid-November is not the normal bloom period for flowering cherry — the normal bloom period is usually mid-April. One must attribute this phenomenon to hormonal stress caused by our unusual weather patterns experienced this past summer and fall. Over abundance of rainfall and fluctuating temperatures stress some flowering trees and plants into producing premature bloom. The stress changes plants’ internal hormone levels which activates premature bloom or sometimes leafing out.

After blooming in the spring, most flowering plants and trees immediately shift to producing flowers for next spring’s show. Azaleas, for example, go into a sequence of bloom preparation from July through August. The good news is there will be no negative side effects from this premature November bloom. The flowering cherry tree witnessed will produce leaves as normal next spring. Unfortunately, it will not have any flowers in the spring of 2021. Other plants such as Kousa dogwoods, Bradford pears and other cherry tree types often bloom prematurely in the fall when stressed by unusual weather conditions.

Darrell Blackwelder is the retired horticulture agent and director with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Contact him at deblackw@ncsu.edu .

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