There's snow coming and my newly planted
(3 weeks ago) oriental lilies are coming up. What should I do? -
They're just breaking the surface, right -- their noses just
poking up? That's not unusual and probably not a
Although we think of winter as a do-nothing season that's not
the perennial plant's perspective. Many of them keep growing right
until the ground freezes, working their ground-hugging basal leaves
and using the energy to build root, or using stored energy to grow
roots and position their new shoots for an early spring
For many, it's a nearly non-stop life cycle, as in the diagram
They keep on growing right under our feet, and might even peek
The fall growth of lilies, trillium, bulbous iris and others is
hidden from us, but they're putting energy into developing roots
and furthering next spring's shoot. The iris illustrated above is
one of the earliest to arise in spring. Other species do no more
than lift their new shoot one inch out of the bulb and then rest
until a February or March thaw. Either way, they "feel" enough cold
as their shoot tip nears the surface, to halt that growth just
below ground. Then, the tip rests there -- it can actually
photosynthesize, using that little bit of light that filters
through. That light energy helps the bulb keep growing more
Sometimes the tip does break through, but if it does all that
may be lost are tips of the top leaves, those which are compressed
protectively above the actual growing point. And even those tips
may survive if they're right near the ground or surrounded by
insulating mulch, getting the benefit of the ground warmth.
You can hedge your bets by throwing a deep heap of leaves over
any exposed new growth. The snow will do you that favor, if it
comes. It's great insulation.
Glad we could help assure you that your bulb investment
is safe. Garden AtoZ will continue to provide great ideas,
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Amazing: What goes on underground in fall
The drawing at the top of this page shows you the life cycle of
bulbous iris (Iris reticulata). Its timing is a bit faster
than some other plants but its stages of growth are typical of many
bulb-forming perennials including lilies (Lilium), and
also of woodland ephemerals. Notice how many roots develop after
the shoot emerges, even while it remains below ground. That's the
result of solar energy captured by the green tip of the shoot. It's
not so dark as we think, down in a crumbly soil!
Also note the horizontal line across the middle of the diagram --
ground level. The iris bulb, about an inch tall overall, is planted
with four inches of soil over its nose. Plant it less deep and it's
more likely to break the surface in fall than otherwise.
Precocious plants: Fall is growing time!
Many perennials give their gardeners a scare when they grow new
leaves, emerge from underground in late fall, or open some of their
flowers. Not to worry. They may lose leaf tips (emerging bulbs),
waste a few flowers (forsythia, azalea), or die back again to their
crown (daisies, bearded irises). All in all, however, they probably
realize a net gain, given the energy they can harness in a few days
in the fall sun.
Some plants have made leafing out in fall a regular part of
their life cycle. Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale),
grape hyacinth (Muscari species) and some crocuses come up
green in fall, then resume in spring to make more leaves and a
Lots of animals know that spring is just under the surface of
the soil. This deer, caught in the act of snacking on some lobelia,
may come back in winter to paw through insulating snow to ground
that's diggable even in winter. She'll scrape through to the
growing points of trillium, hosta and other plants. They're fresh
vegetables in a season of want!
Photo ©2009 Sheryl Kammer