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Bud Break in Firs, Pines and Spruces (11 Replies)

Posted January 26, 2018 at 4:26 pm

I am trying to understand which break first and last in the spring between Firs, Pines and Spruces? In a relatively typical spring, how many days/weeks difference are there in bud break between? Finally, within each group, are there species that tend to break earlier/later, and if you know, are we talking days here? Weeks? This is a question I have asked a number of foresters and nursery people lately, and researched on the internet, and I have come up with literally little to no information! Do you know? I live in Zone 5, but I will take any information anyone has on this general subject! Jim B., Pleasant Hill, IA

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Posted January 27, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Hi Jim, speaking from plants I personally observe in Washington state (USDA Zone 8a), conifers push in the following order:
larch – fir – pine – spruce
Now, the really hard question: I would suggest that it’s a question that’s not possible to answer. The tempo of bud push is really weather dependent. Where I am, we’ll often have a week in February with temps in the 60sF. Buds will start swelling and candles lengthening, then abruptly we’re back in the 30s and 40s and everything screeches to a halt.
The biggest risk is to subarctic and Himalayan species. In their natural habitat, once things start warming up, the plants push and don’t stop. Then a frost or freeze will hit the new growth and stunt them for the entire season. If this gets repeating over several years, the result is a really weak conifer.

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Posted January 29, 2018 at 9:54 am

Yes, nature is awesome in her response to environmental circumstances. Let’s hold the temperature (and sunlight) variables constant, and suppose there is a prolonged stretch of temperatures in the 60’s … With Larches breaking first, what are rough observations of how many days (?weeks) later the firs break? Then about how long to the pines? The spruces? Are we talking days, or weeks for all four to finally finish breaking. I wish I had paid attention to this myself in the past!

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Posted January 29, 2018 at 10:05 pm

Sorry Jim, but you’ve reached limit as to how far I can speculate. I live in Washington state, a place where 3 months of temps in the 60s with constant sunshine has never happened.

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Posted March 5, 2018 at 7:44 pm

Hi Jim … not sure if you’ve given up on this topic yet. I set it aside until it was time to comment more. Now that spring is springing, I’ll report what I’m observing for spring 2018. Stay tuned. I’ll update this post over the course of the spring. I’ve also reached out to my colleagues on the ACS board, inviting them to play along. If enough people from different regions respond, this will be an interesting educational exercise.
Where I am: Olympia, Washington, 47°N latitude, modified Mediterranean climate.
mid-February — various Cupressaceae (Thuja, Cryptomeria, …) turned from winter bronze to vibrant green. Chloroplasts woke up.
Feb 17th — first green buds on Larix gmelinii
Feb 22nd — first green buds on inner branches of Larix occidentalis
Mar 5th — first push on Cedrus libani and deodara (but not atlantica, supporting keeping these species split out). Larix kaempferi — pollen cones are ripening / foliar buds are swelling but not pushing. Cupressus glabra — pollen cones are mature, but not releasing pollen yet.

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Posted March 5, 2018 at 9:21 pm

Mine are actually pretty random — radically different every single year. Two years ago, the first to push of any of my conifers was Picea abies ‘Rubraspicata.’ Last year, it was the last. This year, no sign of break from ANY of the Picea yet, but Abies pindrow has begun to push, and Abies firma has begun. Cedrus deodara is pushing on 5 of 18 plants. The others look dormant as can be. Some of the Cryptomeria japonica started pushing in December and then took a break. Many of them have shown no signs. I had candles come a second time on parviflora ‘Blauer Engel’ in November. Pines aren’t supposed to push twice a year, but it did. Now, it doesn’t have candles at ALL, but most of the other parvs are beginning to show them, as are several (but not all) of the other pines. Cupressus is looking a little more vibrant, but nothing’s really showing signs of pushing yet. Same with Chamaecyparis obtusa, pisifera, and thyoides. Last year, the Chams were out in January. Pseudotsuga japonica was the first of the Pseudotsuga to push — about two weeks ago. Pseudotsuga sinensis is pushing now as well. Menziesii hasn’t pushed at all.

Pinus taeda is throwing pollen about already, making everything yellow, but no pollen cones on the other pines I have yet.

Overall, there’s been no rhyme or reason to any of it in the last 7 years I’ve been in this particular house. Of course, we just had a February with average temps in the mid-70s. And tomorrow night, it’s going to be below freezing (and the night after and a few more nights this week), so we’ll likely lose growth on several of the plants already pushing. I’ve lost all growth on Abies pindrow 3 years running now. And Abies firma has lost growth the last two years. Pseudotduga sinensis has lost growth just last year so far.

In an ideal world of predictable temperature cycles, it might be easier to track which plants push when, but we’ve not had that here in many years.

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Posted March 6, 2018 at 10:50 am

Sure not giving up on this! There is the dormancy period the trees undergo … was it adequate/conducive to even set them up for bud break? Figuring so, there is the increasing variability in temperatures that finally stimulate bud break. This last one I can hold constant in my mind, as what I am striving for is giving Living Christmas trees of Firs, Pines and Spruces (not sure about Larches). So they all will have undergone the same dormancy period (but variable year to year), and then will experience the same indoor climate during the Christmas season (68 to 72 degrees F). What I want to be able to tell people is, which will break first, and which last, so they can get them out of the home and into a partial sunlight garage or shed until Spring planting. It would be ideal to be able to tell them something like: “Don’t keep firs inside any longer than 5 to 7 days … pines no longer than 9 to 10 days … spruces no longer than 12-14 days (or whatever the best right day range is for each). I realize I’m reaching quite high with what I am asking here … but no better way to find out just how high one can actually reach!

What is the VERY first signal of a bud about to break … swelling bud without any opening? Something else? I would be concerned to ask most people to watch for/measure an obscure sign, for fear of misread or inattention. But if they did it right, maybe then getting the tree to the garage or shed RIGHT AWAY would work? Ways to delay bud break indoors??

I appreciate any and all input … the walks do us good, and the extra attention to nature’s revelations is stimulating. We are in cold temperate Zone 5 here in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, and it is snowing today after pouring thundershowers yesterday. Looking forward to paying attention to this bud break thing soon.

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Posted March 6, 2018 at 1:30 pm

bump back onto the home page …

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Posted May 24, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Well, I can say that there appears to be a difference amongst the same genera or at least there is where I live. I noticed that my white firs (Abies concolor) have broken long before my Korean firs. Another thing that I have noticed consistently is that the buds closest to the ground begin to swell first while the buds on the upper reaches remain dormant. This seems to be especially true in younger specimens.

Your hardiness zone in Iowa appears to be about the same as mine (Northeastern Indiana).

I’m not sure if I helped you with your question or not but I hope so.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain

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Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Another question would be, is there any effect of provenance. Though I don’t remember hearing about this in conifers, I know it’s been shown in deciduous plants, for example red maples, that trees from northern sites tend to leaf out later and also to lose their leaves earlier in the fall, while trees from southern sites have adapted to the longer growing season they get.

It seems logical that conifers such as Abies concolor, balsamea, Picea glauca, and others found over broad geographical regions would show a similar response to provenance. Meaning that trees grown from seeds sourced in more northern locations would tend to push later than those in the same species sourced more southernly. And you might also get cul6tivars derived from brooms/sports/etc on trees from northern sites to also tend to push later.

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