Can tulips survive frost

Mother nature can be quite unpredictable to say the least. Sometimes in early Spring after bulbs have emerged from the ground and are beginning to flower, a sudden cold snap will bring temperatures down below freezing for a few days. I always wonder what will happen to those delicate plants when temperatures fall so unexpectedly. More often than not, I’m amazed at the resiliency of these hardy plants.

Yellow Tulips

The exact effect caused by a sudden cold snap depends on a number of different factors, including the type of plant, regional location, temperature and length of snap. Remember, cold snaps are defined as a short and sudden spell of cold weather; therefore, the temperatures should rise back to their normal levels within a couple of days.


Because they bloom early in the spring, tulips can handle short cold snaps with ease. As long as the temperatures go back within 48 hours, they won’t suffer any serious damage. A tulip’s shoots and buds are usually the most protected from the cold, as they have a natural barrier against the cold weather. On the other hand, tulips with open blossoms may experience a slight burn from the freezing temperatures, especially if it lasts for longer than 48 hours.

Blooming Daffodil


There are many varieties of daffodils, all of which blossom in spring. When a cold snap approaches, gardeners are oftentimes fearful of the effects it will have. Like tulips, however, daffodils are naturally protected against mild-to-moderate cold snaps. If you believe the freezing temperatures are going to last longer than expected, you can place some extra mulch around the base of your daffodils for an added layer of thermal protection. Once the temperatures begin to rise again, though, you’ll need to remove the mulch so the daffodils can easily breathe again.


Hyacinth is a plant that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean, Iran and Turkmenistan, but it’s since been successfully introduced into several other regions. This bulbous flowering plant blooms with bright purplish blue coloring that’s a welcomed addition to any garden. So, how well does hyacinth handle short spells of cold weather? Some gardeners will find they do quite well, while others may experience their plants going into shock. Hyacinth is considered a spring-blooming flower, but this doesn’t necessary mean they will withstand freezing temperatures. The best thing you can do in the event of sudden cold snaps is to protect hyacinth with extra mulch for additional warmth.

Care Of Tulip Bulbs In Containers In The Winter

Containers are not just for perennials and annuals. Bulbs, especially tulip bulbs, can make a spectacular focal point in your spring garden, but eventually the weather will start to get cold and you will need to decide what to do with tulip bulbs in containers. Overwintering your tulip bulbs in containers is one option you have, and here is how you can do this successfully.

Planting Tulip Bulbs to Survive the Winter

If you plan from the start to keep your tulip bulbs in their container in the winter, then you can take steps when planting the tulip bulbs in containers to make sure they will survive the winter.

Drainage is extra important – In the winter, what kills hardy plants and bulbs more often than not is ice rather than the cold itself. Making sure that the drainage in the container is excellent and that water from melting snow or from routine watering does not get trapped in the container to freeze will

help keep you tulip bulbs alive over the winter.

Fertilize well – While your tulips are growing and blooming during the spring, they are storing energy to help them survive the winter. The more energy you can help them store, the more likely they are to survive. In containers, the bulbs do not have as much opportunity to seek out nutrients. You will be their only source to make sure they have enough.

Storing Tulip Bulbs in Containers

If you live in a zone where tulip bulbs do not need to be chilled indoors, you will need to store your tulip bulb containers. If you live in zone 6, you will need to move your tulip bulb containers to a sheltered area, such as near the foundation of your house. If you live in zone 5, you will need to store your tulip bulb container in a cool place out of the elements, such as a garage or a basement.

Even if you are in zone 6, you may want to consider storing your tulip bulb containers in the garage or basement to prevent poor drainage and ice from killing your tulip bulbs.

Care of Tulip Bulbs in the Winter

While your tulip bulbs will not need much water over the winter, they will need some moisture. If your tulip bulbs are stored in a place where they will get snowed on (and then watered by melting snow) or there has been a lack of precipitation over the winter, you will need to occasionally water your tulip bulbs in containers. If you need to provide water, then water the container about once a month.

In the winter, tulip bulbs do not need to be fertilizer. Hold off on fertilizing until the early spring when you put the container back outside so that the tulips can grow.

It’s times like these you are reminded that you live in Northern Illinois.

One weekend you are enjoying sixty degree temperatures and the next you’re worried that your flowers are going to be killed by a snowstorm.

It is the joy of midwest living.

The early warm weather sure was great, but you know you’re going to pay for it later. Once the tulips and daffodils have mature leaves and shoots, you’re excited for spring.

Then the snow comes.

How will the snow affect my flowers?

The good news is that most flowering plants are very hearty. Most of them can survive a snowstorm no problem.

The biggest danger is not actually snow but an extended cold snap after the flowers have their flowering buds.

Related: Flowers and Other Plants for Your Garden that Resist Rabbits

Tulips in the snow

Tulips can handle short cold snaps of cold and snow without much of a problem. The biggest danger to tulips is extended below freezing temperatures after the flower buds have formed.

Usually, they will survive, but when the buds are about to bloom, the flowers are at their most delicate moment. Extreme cold could harm the flower. They may cause a few browns spots on the flower or leaves.

The good news is that even if the flower is damaged, the bulbs will be fine and will come back again next year.

Daffodils in the snow

Daffodils, being one of the earliest blooming flowers, are very well adapted to cold weather.

I saw proof of this myself last year. We spent a lot of time planting bulbs in late fall and then in March we had a snowstorm as all the flowers were starting to bloom. A yard full of daffodils with snow on them.

But they survived! Daffodils my not have a real long bloom cycle but the snow did not kill them. And they all came back next year.

Hyacinths in the snow

We’ve seen freezing temperatures and snow have different results on hyacinths. Often they seem to do quite well. People have reported snow causing their hyacinths shock though, causing the flowers to wilt. Most of the time they should be okay.


Flowers on magnolia trees are unfortunately susceptible to snow and cold. If flower buds are already present, they will be threatened by the cold. If they are damaged, the flowers may not bloom and you will unfortunately, have to wait until next spring to see them.

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Will weekend freeze harm blooming plants?

Q: Is there any chance I can save the daffodils in full bloom in my yard from upcoming cold temperatures? What about the ones just coming up?

A: You may have to race out and do something immediately. Recent unseasonably warm temperatures have created an early display by our crocuses and daffodils, and many are now in full bloom.

The crocuses often appear early, and they may be almost done blooming for this year. You can cover their green foliage with a light layer of pine needles to help the green leaves survive a freeze if one is predicted for your area. We want the foliage to survive to enable the bulbs to store energy for next year. You can purchase freeze cloth at many nursery shops. Use this light layer to help hold soil heat in and around the plants.

The tall foliage of daffodils can be protected by covering with cardboard boxes, black plastic nursery pots or old clay pots. Any item that you have that can cover the plant without squashing it will do. Search your cupboards for possibilities.

You can surround the base of daffodil foliage with a light layer of pine needles to support the foliage and then cover the area with freeze cloth or a fabric sheet. Your objective is to create a protective layer and capture the warmth of the soil.

If a hard freeze is predicted, you can enjoy your daffodils indoors. Cut the flowers that are in full bloom, and use them in arrangements. They are often too tender to survive, and you will have to cut them away to clean up the plant anyway.

As you may have noticed with partly open flowers, when frost gets to the plant, the stems collapse and the flowers never open. Better to enjoy them, so cut and allow them to open indoors.

The foliage clumps that are barely emerging from the soil for late-blooming daffodils or tulips can be covered with fabric, cardboard or pots. Try to create a little greenhouse effect for each tuft. Try not to squash the foliage since it may recover to full height.

If cold temperatures do produce major problems for your daffodils or other bulbs, fertilize whatever remains as you would usually do. They may be unsightly, but they need the nutrients for the health of the bulb.

Also consider planting some of the early frost-resistant plants such as the trusty and tough hellebores. Their flowers stand up to a frost, and so will the flowers of the early Galanthus nivalis or Snowdrops. These dainty white flowers naturalize well, will pop through a snow cover and are a dainty but tough reminder that spring is around the corner.

Email Pat Lea at [email protected]

Spring Freeze! How Will It Affect My Spring-flowering Bulbs?

Before I say anything else, let me say this: odds are, your spring-flowering bulbs will be fine, despite what nasty surprises Mother Nature decides to throw at them. Every time I experience a little anxiety over the welfare of my beloved bulbs, I remind myself that many of these daffodils were already here when we bought the house, and have been blooming reliably for at least 20 years. I’ve added hundreds of additional bulbs since we purchased our home, including hyacinths, muscari by the truckload, scilla, tulips, daffodils, and lilies. I have yet to experience a weather event that significantly damaged the blooms of my bulbs, though there have been years with shorter displays than others. That said, let’s examine a few factors that may influence the impact a late winter freeze may have on your little beauties!

The first factor to consider is what kind of spring-flowering bulbs you have. There are some very early blooming spring bulbs that seem impervious to cold and snow. I’ve had crocuses push their way up through the snow. Snowdrops, hyacinths, and some daffodils also seem to be particularly resistant to the cold, wet spring precipitation. An extended freeze, with daytime temperatures that remain below 29 degrees, might cause some damage, but an overnight frost will generally not cause any lasting damage to these tough little bulbs.

Tulips and lilies are a little more prone to damage once they’ve formed buds. If a hard freeze or an extended period of cold is forecast, it would be wise to cover your tulips and lilies to ensure you get to enjoy their blooms this year. If you are taken by surprise, and your tulips and lilies are damaged, don’t despair. You will likely lose this year’s blooms, but they will continue to store energy in the bulb to return to their regular blooming cycle next year.

Probably the number one deciding factor in whether you need to offer protection to your spring bulbs is what type of cold weather you will be having. If the temperatures are dropping below freezing overnight, and a frost is predicted, you probably don’t need to worry, as long as the daytime temperatures will rise above freezing. Most spring bulbs won’t be phased at all by short periods of cold and frost. Likewise, a late snow isn’t likely to cause damage, as snow actually acts as an insulating blanket, protecting the foliage and buds from extreme fluctuations in temperature. I’ve actually directed my husband and kids to shovel the snow from the sidewalk onto my flower beds when the bulb foliage is poking through, to add extra moisture and insulation from the cold.

You do need to be concerned, however, if you have a period of extended cold temperatures, with daytime temperatures staying below 29 degrees, or a sudden drop into the low 20’s and teens. This is particularly worrisome if the cold temperatures are accompanied by cold winds, which have a drying effect on your plants. The combination of wind and cold isn’t any kinder to the leaves of your plants than it is to your skin and hair, often drawing moisture out and leaving the leaves limp and damaged. This is sometimes referred to as dry wilt, as the plant loses moisture faster than it is able to replace it.

Some gardeners employ a tactic used by the Florida citrus growers, particularly if the plant is already in bloom: they spray their plants with water to form a layer of protective ice, to prevent them from losing too much moisture to the winds and dry, cold air. The ice also prevents injury by helping the plant maintain a constant temperature, and protecting it from excessive moisture loss. This is a technique used by the Parks Department in Holland, Michigan, when the tulips for their annual Tulip Time Festival are endangered by prolonged low temperatures.

Another key consideration is how far along your bulbs are in their emergence and bloom cycle. If the foliage emerged fairly recently, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Foliage is not often damaged by cold. If it is, the plant still often recovers fully and goes on to bloom without any adverse affects.

Buds and blooms, however are more susceptible to the cold. The closer they are to blooming, the more prone they are to damage by frigid temperatures. If you have tulips or other bulbs in bloom, it might be wise to cover them, or cut the blooms to enjoy indoors in a vase. The flowers may appear to have withstood the cold without damage, but as the flower stalk thaws, it may become soft and droopy, and be unable to support the weight of the bloom.

The location of the bulbs on your property may also have an impact on how much they are affected by the cold. Plants located close to the house may fare better, as they have some protection from the wind, and may benefit from some heat radiating from the house at night. This is a double-edged sword, however. Flower beds with southern exposure and in warmer microclimates created by proximity to your house tend to sprout first, as the soil warms there first, so they are most in danger of frost damage. Low-lying areas, where the lowest temperatures tend to pool, are at more risk than plants on a hillside or slope. Areas that have experienced a very dry winter are also more prone to damage due to the cold, as the plant is at risk for dehydration. Some experts recommend a deep watering if a hard frost is forecast, both to keep the soil temperatures elevated, and to prevent over-drying of foliage.

One of the best preventative measures you can employ, well in advance, is to mulch the beds in late fall, after the ground is frozen. If you mulch while the ground is still warm, it may keep the beds from freezing when the rest of the soil freezes, and encourage the bulbs to sprout too early. Mulching after the soil freezes helps maintain a constant soil temperature, and reduce frequent freezing and thawing as temperatures fluctuate. This also has the added benefit of reducing bulb “heaving,” where the freezing and thawing cycles cause the bulb to come to the surface, where they are not protected by the insulating soil, and it helps the soil to retain moisture, which is critical for healthy bulb development in the spring. Almost any organic matter, applied 4-6 inches deep, makes an effective mulch: wood chips, straw, compost, mulched leaves (I run over them with my mulching lawn mower, which also conveniently bags them for me. I then use the mulched leaves as a protective covering in my flower beds, or add it to my compost bins), or pine needles and branches. You do want to avoid mulches that form a thick, impervious mat, such as grass clippings, as they won’t allow water to penetrate to the soil, and may encourage the growth of fungal diseases.

If you did not mulch in the fall, and have tulips and other bulbs emerging and setting buds, it is not too late to add some protection if an extreme freeze is predicted. A loose, light mulch, such as straw, can be added around the tulip plants and buds, covering them by at least an inch, to protect them from extreme temperatures and hard frosts. This can be labor-intensive if you have extensive beds, as the mulch has to be removed once temperatures warm up, but it can definitely preserve your blooms! Just be sure to use “clean” straw without weeds or seeds, or your bulbs will be competing with grass and weeds for water and nutrients when the seeds sprout.
If you determine that you do need to cover your plants when extreme conditions are forecast, there are several factors to consider. You probably have several appropriate materials in your linen closet! Sheets work well as protective covers, as do lightweight blankets. If you have burlap or fabric landscaping cloth, those are also excellent options. The key is to avoid plastic or materials that don’t retain heat, and may cause moisture retention that may damage your plants. If your plants are already in bloom, you will need to put garden stakes or some kind of supports to hold the covers up, and prevent the weight of them from breaking bloom stalks, which are less flexible than foliage. Heavy snow on top of sheets or fabric can also weigh down plants, so providing support can be crucial. I’ve gone so far as to set up folding chairs and tomato cages over my plants and draping sheets over them, to provide support and protection from extreme hard frosts. If harsh winds are also forecast, be sure to hold the edges of the cover down to the soil with rocks, bricks, or earth staples, for two reasons. First, your cover will do no good if it is blowing down the block. Secondly, shelter from drying winds may be as critical as shielding from frost or ice build-up, and wind has a way of finding its way under the unsecured edges of sheets and other covers.

Extreme cold over a period of several days can be especially damaging, but there are some ways you can add a few critical degrees of warmth under your covers. If you have strings of Christmas tree lights that are rated for outdoor use, you can drape those over and around your plants, to raise the temperature slightly. Even a couple of degrees can be the deciding factor between severe damage and slight browning of foliage. A decidedly lower-tech option is to place milk jugs or 2 liter soda bottles of water under the covers. They will absorb solar energy during the day, and radiate it back to your plants at night when the temperatures are lower. Bricks and cement blocks can be used the same way.

If frost damage does occur, don’t cut off foliage, even if it is damaged, as bulbs need the foliage to feed the bulb. If it is still early in the season, and the plant sends up new, green foliage, then it is safe to remove the damaged leaves. However, if the foliage is in full swing, and it turns yellowish or soft, hold off on removing it until you are certain it won’t recover. This year’s foliage will store up food for next year’s blooms! As a general rule of thumb, you should not cut back any foliage on bulbs until it has turned brown and died back, or your bulbs may not store up enough carbohydrates to last through the next winter and bloom season.

For a detailed explanation of Frosts, Freezes, and Microclimates, check out this excellent article by Dave’s Garden writer Geoff Stein (palmbob).

Photo Credits:

Most images are from the Creative Commons area of Flickr, a photo sharing site. Please do not copy or use without referring to the Creative Commons Terms of Use. The final image was taken by my husband, David Carson, who retains the copyright.

Thumbnail image of hyacinth bloom in the snow: Flickr Creative Commons, by metrognome0, some rights reserved.

Crocuses in snow: Flickr Creative Commons, by Men In Black, some rights reserved.

Tulip foliage in snow: Flickr Creative Commons, by staticgirl, some rights reserved.

Hyacinth bud and foliage in snow: Flickr Creative Commons, by derekGavey, some rights reserved.

Siberian Squill and Daffodils in snow: Flickr Creataive Commons, by mccormicka, some rights reserved.

Daffodils can spring back from Texas Freeze

The daffodils, jonquils and narcissus were the only flowers blooming in my drab backyard Saturday, that gloriously sunny day. I had maybe 10 flowers with more in bud.

I fretted about their survival in the face of the impending onslaught of wind, freezing rain, sleet, possibly snow, and a ridiculous low temperature of 16 degrees. You wait all year for those cheery, fragrant flowers to raise their brave little heads and then a drastically abnormal winter threatens flowers a year in the making.

Imagine how much hand-wringing was happening at the Dallas Arboretum, where 40,000 bulbs in the Narcissus family were planted last fall.

The coming weekend is the date of the annual flower show at the arboretum hosted by the Texas Daffodil Society. It is supposed to coincide with prime daffodil season in members’ gardens and also the arboretum’s breathtaking swaths of mostly yellow flowers, some 40 varieties this year.

Expert fanciers and amateur home gardeners alike are welcome to enter their prettiest blooms. There is a category for so-called amateurs’ entries, so garden-variety flowers do not have to compete with the champions.

But are there any daffodils left to pick, after this week’s frozen hours?

The Narcissus genus is tougher than its glowing blossoms indicate. Like cuttings from garden roses, they traveled with pioneers in covered wagons from eastern states and across oceans in ships’ holds. The bulbs were a token from home, and they adapted to their new territory as they have for centuries.

A coating of ice may turn petals brown and driving rain can render flowers tattered and limp, but the bulbs will live to bloom another spring.

Dave Forehand, vice president of gardens and visitor services, is reassuring. “Daffodils at the arboretum came through the ice and cold very well. Many are just in bud and about to open. We are OK,” he said in an email. “They survived the big cold without any trouble.”

Many school gardens in North Texas have daffodil projects each fall, where children dig holes and plop bulbs in the ground. If any of those flowers withstood the cold, you are likely to see them entered in the daffodil society’s show in Rosine Hall.

Those interested in entering homegrown daffodils for judging may take them to Rosine Hall at the arboretum from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday and 7 to 8 a.m. Friday. Categories include small growers and mystery daffodils.

The show is open to arboretum visitors from noon to 4 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The weather was warm so early this spring that my spring flowering bulbs emerged earlier than usual. They were up several inches and now we are back in the throes of winter. Should I protect them in any way? Will they be ok? Will they be ok next year?
Minnesota Master Gardeners say:
When cold weather returns, as it has, bulbs naturally stop growing. They may or may not be ok, that will depend on the temperatures and the duration of the cold snap. It is the flower buds that are most at risk, and may potentially be damaged if temperatures drop below 26 degrees F. You have to weigh your options in this situation. Are the bulbs a less hardy species or unusually expensive and worth the effort to cover? Is it worth the risk of breaking off plants with heavy covers? Info-U has a script on this topic. Here it is: Spring Bulbs and Hard Frosts In some years, freezing temperatures may damage spring bulbs such as tulips, crocus and daffodils that emerge early in the season. Bulbs located near a foundation, especially on the south or west side of a building, or on a south facing slope, are most susceptible to early emergence and, therefore, freezing damage. The soil on these sites can heat up in very early spring, causing leaves and flower buds to emerge too soon. If air temperatures then drop into the 26-28 degree range, the leaves or buds may be damaged or killed.
To prevent freezing damage to spring bulbs, avoid planting your bulbs against foundations or on south-facing exposures if possible. Existing plantings on susceptible sites should be mulched in the fall after the ground has frozen. A 6-inch layer of straw or shredded leaves makes a fine winter mulch.
To protect an unmulched planting during freezing weather in early spring, place a layer of polyester row cover material or a sheet or light blanket over the emerging bulbs at night. Polyester row cover material may be left in place for extended periods, while a sheet or blanket should be removed each morning once temperatures have risen above the freezing point.
Finally, if cold weather is forecast when the flower buds are about to open, consider cutting them for indoor enjoyment.
For beds that are repeatedly warming too early each spring and getting plants off to a risky early start, a thick mulch of pine needles, straw or oak leaves in the fall is your best insurance. If you decide to use a light blanket to cover bulbs, be sure to support it with stakes or the like, to reduce the risk of plant breakage. Don’t use covers if snow is expected, as it will weigh them down.
When all is said and done, you may not get flowers this season, or flower life may be shortened by freezing. If foliage survives, the bulbs should be able to photosynthesize for the rest of the spring and successfully go dormant for next year. If plants totally die to the ground due to freezing temperatures (rare occurrence for tulips, daffodils or crocus), don’t expect your bulbs to show up next spring. If they do manage to come back another year after freezing the previous spring, don’t expect good flowering.

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