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Boreal Community Media

Winter's Warm Start: What Does It Mean for Spring Gardens and Pollinators?

Feb 01, 2024 08:51AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Roman Datsiuk via

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - January 16, 2024

Winter may have returned in full force, but the unseasonably warm weather we experienced earlier in the season has left many Minnesotans wondering about the fate of their spring gardens. Reports of sprouting flower bulbs, buds on lilac trees, and other signs we typically see in spring have been recorded around the state. With fluctuating temperatures and a lack of snow cover, how will this all impact pollinators and spring gardens?

"You often see pre-mature sprouting of bulbs during unseasonable warm periods during the winter and even then, the plants will be fine," Cook County Master Gardener Sally Berg told Boreal Community Media. She added that any damage that occurs will likely be limited to leaf tips, assuming the flower buds themselves are still below ground. 

While snow has finally arrived, a good layer of mulch can add an extra layer of protection to those tender spring bulbs and protect plants from extreme cold. Berg says that adding 5-6 inches of mulched leaves, partially decomposed compost, straw, or ground corn stalks over your garden after the ground has frozen can help prevent flowers and vegetation from emerging too early in the spring, when they can be at risk of being damaged by a late freeze. "It is very important not to apply the mulch to perennials before the soil begins to freeze, as this may encourage growth beneath the mulch that will ultimately weaken the plants," she added. 

As for pollinators, Berg says that overall, warm temperatures and low precipitation can cause flowers to produce less nectar to conserve energy. Less nectar means "fewer calories and sugar" for pollinators, which impacts their reproduction rates and health. 

When it comes to other insects, typically warmer temperatures have a wide variety of effects. However, "Generally, warmer temperatures can accelerate the development and reproduction of insects, leading to increased population sizes," Berg said. As for what that means for mosquitos, ticks, black flies, and other unwanted insects this year, it's too soon to tell. 

About the Cook County Master Gardeners

The Cook County Master Gardeners are local volunteers who help educate using "research-based horticultural knowledge" through a variety of methods. Community members can ask a Cook County Master Gardener a question at any time for free using this form, or request a site visit to receive advice on any landscape/gardening changes they're thinking of making. 

The Cook County Master Gardner's are also hosting their annual onion, potato, and leek community order fundraiser. You can find more info on that here. 

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