Blooming questions answered by admitted “garden nerd” | Dennis Tompkins

I track when trees bloom. That probably makes me pretty geeky.

  • Wednesday, April 10, 2019 1:32pm
  • Life

The following is written by local arborist Dennis Tompkins:

Have you ever wondered about Mother Nature’s ability to coordinate her activities as the weather warms and her world begins to awaken?

I attempt to keep track of certain events in my own landscape. For the last few years, I have recorded the approximate dates of when blossoms begin to open, when they are in full bloom and when they have fallen on various trees and shrubs.

I think this qualifies me as a “Garden Nerd,” but it has produced some interesting information. For the curious, below are a few of my observations.


Flowering plums are always the earliest and apples are the latest to bloom in my yard. These trees also demonstrated the greatest variance during recent years. The earliest blossom opening occurred in late February 2015 while 2013 was a late spring with flowers first appearing in mid-March.

It generally took four to six days for the plum trees to become in full bloom. The blossoms had completely disappeared after another 10 to 12 days.

A magnolia tree experienced the same kind of variance while blossom break on ornamental cherries, an apple, an Italian plum and some rhododendrons only ranged around five to seven days between early and late springs.

The answer to the question is, this spring arrived about the same time as last year.

The recent rains were welcome as March was quite dry in the Puget Sound area.


The answer is a surprisingly short period of time.

The shortest bloom period was the apple and Italian plum trees that averaged about two weeks. The longest period was around three weeks for the flowering plum, the ornamental cherries and the rhododendrons. The magnolia blossoms generally last between three and four weeks.

Summarizing the data from my yard, the spring bloom generally begins in early to mid-March and is finished by late March to early- to mid-April. Through the years the difference between early and late springs has been approximately two weeks.


On deciduous trees, the leaves begin to emerge as the flower blossoms begin to dissipate.

The length of the growing season varies widely with the different species. Generally, most of the new growth of leaves and twigs occurs during April, May and into June. Once this has been completed, virtually no new growth will occur until the next spring.

Many conifer species like Douglas fir break bud in late April and continue to grow until the new growth hardens off in early July. Generally, no further growth occurs until the next spring.


Mother nature has fine-tuned the emergence of various insects and the spread of disease spores as the growth of new leaves and twigs begins. The tender new growth is very susceptible to disease infections and some insects such as aphids. As the leaves mature, signs of various other problems become evident

If a homeowner is concerned about a problem, it is important to have it properly identified. This is a critical step in determining the type of treatment to consider. Master Gardener clinics at various stores, farmer’s markets and special events are excellent sources of information. If possible, take a sample to a clinic site.

Certified arborists and other professionals are available provide a proper diagnosis and recommended treatments. Otherwise, a homeowner can make the decision to simply live with the problem. This is generally my choice in my landscape.


The answer depends upon what one reads or hears from tree services or learns at a pruning class. After sorting out all of the confusing information, pruning can occur most anytime one has the time without killing a tree – unless one completely butchers a victim. Tree topping should always be discouraged.

Fruit trees are typically pruned during the fall and winter. Many ornamental species such as Japanese laceleaf maples can also be pruned when the leaves have fallen and branches and twigs are easy to see.

Advantages of summer pruning include the ease of spotting dead branches .

An excellent source for pruning information is the third edition of Cass Turnbull’s “Guide to Pruning.” She was the founder of Plant Amnesty, a Seattle-based advocacy group encouraging the proper pruning of trees.

Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is an ISA certified arborist and qualified tree risk assessor. He provides small-tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners. Contact him at 253 863-7469 or email at Website:

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