An irregular winter means Niagara-on-the-Lake is enjoying an earlier and longer daffodil season this spring.
Sheila Hirsch-Kalm, a member of the NOTL Horticulture Society, thinks one of the main reasons for this is “because we had such an unusual winter, it was the winter that was never happening.”
She is well-known in town for the installation of the Daffodil Gardens of Hope around NOTL at firehalls, the community centre and Simcoe Park.
“By the first week of April they were starting to open up. You would see that as you drive around and outside of the firehall.”
“Things started early,” she says, “but what’s interesting is that because now we’ve got the cool weather, daffodils are lasting longer, which is lovely.”
Paul Zammit, a professor of horticulture at Niagara College, says that not really having much of a winter at all and having little snow is a factor in the daffodils' longevity.
There was no deep freeze that took a long time, Zammit said.
“We didn’t have the low temperatures in winter that we’ve typically had, or the extended periods. There were not the massive snow drifts that needed to have a couple weeks to melt.”
Snowfall is important for the lifecycle of gardens as it replenishes the moisture plants need to grow in the spring and helps knock down pests and disease.
“I’m not a huge fan of winter but our gardens do need it,” Zammit said.
“I think as we went into winter, we all anticipated a bit of an early spring, considering we weren’t getting that massive deep freeze and that massive pile of snow.”
Because of this, as soon as the warmer temperatures come, the sun hits the soil and it warms up quicker without having to melt all the snow, he said.
So, while the daffodil season, “wasn’t super early, but the thing is it’s staying.”
“This is something that we can all enjoy because the cold actually holds things, as opposed to boom, things just explode and then they’re done.”
Hirsch-Kalm plans around the blooming of daffodils to open the Garden of Hope each year. One of the gardens is at the St. Davids firehall down the street from her home.
In the past, the garden has been opened anywhere from the first week of April to the first week of May. “We had to either postpone until May because they weren’t opening, or we had to put it on earlier in the first week of April because nature had jumped ahead of us and they were blooming.”
Liette Vasseur, a professor of biology and environment sciences at Brock University, says there is a real fine line in spring.
A very cold long winter means it takes more time for the plants to come up in the spring because they are sensitive to heat, she said.
“It’s great to have the flowers early but if you get a strong frost and very cold temperatures, you don’t have the pollinators at that point because the pollinators don’t go out when it’s cold and on top of that the flowers will not last as well.”
Growth is related to how much heat the daffodils are getting. Temperatures greater than 9C with sunshine promotes blooming.
Vasseur said in some cases the daffodils were blooming a little bit early this year.
“I know that at Brock University, close to my window, they started blooming in the second week of March just before we got stuck staying home because of COVID-19.”
“So, this year they were probably a little bit earlier than normal,” Vasseur said. “We had, at one point, quite a lot of warmer temperatures that went up to 14 or 15. I think this is what kind of helped what we call the early movers.”
She said daffodils usually bloom mid-April up to late May but remembers last year being a bit slower with the season starting closer to April 25.
Vassuer encourages people to try to keep track of their gardens throughout the year.
“It really helps to know what’s happening over time and what to expect from year to year, and over a longer period of time as well. You can see how climate change, for example, is changing with the blooming of the plants,” Vasseur said.
“It’s great if people can keep up with the dates, recording the dates of their plants and we have what we call plant watch in Canada,” Vasseur says. “It helps to know what’s happening in the long term.”
Hirsch-Kalm said it a great respite from the pandemic. “Right now, there’s so much doom and gloom but nature keeps on blooming. Nature does not get cancelled. Nature will come. That keeps us busy looking for the flowers to open up.”
“A lot of us have got gardens and now is a chance that we can walk out there and perhaps take time to look and think of what we can plant that we don’t have planted and what can we do to improve things,” she said, “one of them being, next fall plant more daffodils!”