Late Winter Buds

Buds that bloom on trees and flowers are a good indicator of spring to come.

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When the buds start to open on trees and shrubs, you know that the busy gardening season is fast approaching. Master gardener Paul James shows the flower and leaf buds that are beginning to open in his garden:

Late-Winter Flower Buds

Redbuds produce clusters of flower buds in advance of the leaf buds. There are several species of redbuds (Cercis sp.) that grow well in USDA Zones 4 to 7(8). Flower color ranges from light or dark pink to white. They rarely grow taller than 30 feet, which makes them ideal trees for small properties.

Most dogwood trees also bloom before their leaves emerge. In late winter, tight buds slowly unfurl to reveal beautiful flowers with white or pink bracts (leaflike structures that look like petals). They too are great for small properties or as understory trees.

Late-Winter Leaf Buds

"It's far more common for plants to produce leaf buds first, and I urge you to watch them over a period of several days just to witness the process," Paul says. "Because in the process, you'll gain a better understanding of how plants grow."

Just as important, you get a better idea of the meaning of the terms bud swell or bud break. For example, many garden books suggest you prune certain deciduous plants just as the leaf buds begin to swell, or that you begin preventive spraying programs just as the leaf buds break.

These conditions are easy to spot if you take the time to look closely. Here, the leaf buds on the bottom are beginning to swell, and the leaf buds at the top are just beginning to break.

New growth on evergreens is equally interesting to examine closely, especially the candles on pines. Check out the new growth of this spruce, Picea pungens 'Candlelight.' The tips do indeed look a lot like a flickering candle flame. 'Howell's Bi-color' spruce has blue- and yellow-colored needles.

"If you take the time to get to know your plants better, it'll make you a better gardener," Paul says. "You can certainly enjoy them from a distance, just sitting on the patio. But it's a lot more fun to actually get your face in your plants."

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