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posted: 3/2/2013 1:00 AM

Some flowers may be tricked into blooming early

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  • Winter aconite is among the small early bulbs that can tolerate a bit of frost even after they flower.

      Winter aconite is among the small early bulbs that can tolerate a bit of frost even after they flower.

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By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

In late winter, short-term thaws followed by freezes can stir up the garden.

During unseasonably warm periods, early bulbs may sprout prematurely, especially those planted with a southern exposure, close to a house or garage. The Chicago Botanic Garden, has on occasion, had snowdrops in flower in late February in similar locations.

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Stems and leaves appear first, with flower buds emerging much later. Cold weather coming after the thaw might damage the edges of foliage, but unless the flower bud has appeared, the cold will not affect the future flowering or health of the bulb.

A few of the small early bulbs can tolerate a bit of frost even after they flower. They include winter aconite, snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow.

Check garden beds at this time of year to be sure plants have not heaved out of the ground due to freeze-thaw-freeze cycles. Gently press the crowns of perennials back into the ground; avoid compacting the soil by stomping heavily around plants. A layer of mulch will insulate the soil to keep it frozen and help prevent additional frost heaving.

If you feed birds, do not let your dog eat birdseed that falls from the feeder. Your dog might ingest bird droppings with the birdseed that can contain salmonella bacteria. Salmonella can cause severe digestive upset, with lots of vomiting and diarrhea that can be fatal in very young or old dogs. The salmonella bacteria can also be passed on to you.

The birdseed itself probably will not cause problems. Most dogs can pass small amounts of ingested seed. If a dog eats a large amount, however, the birdseed can become impacted in his intestines, where it can ferment and cause a large amount of gas in the stomach. This can cause the stomach to bloat, leading to life-threatening complications that require immediate emergency veterinary attention.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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