Unexpected bud break in January in PNW

Hello all,

Fresh out of the BSOP club meeting from last night, I came out this morning to check up on my trees. To my surprise I am already seeing several of my trees start to break buds. In the pictures I’ve attached below I have a Chinese elm, Japanese Maple and a Japanese Larch that are all starting to swell and break.

I am very surprised to see this kind of activity at this time of the year. The elm in the picture most certainly did not start budding this early last year, it feels like I’m at least 1.5 - 2 months ahead of schedule. It was quite a late bloomer last year.

Many in the PNW (Pacific Northwest) know that we’ve been having an extremely mild winter. Temperatures here at the end of January have been teasing upper 40s to mid 50s pretty consistently. All of this has caught be very off guard.

My questions for this group

  • Is anyone else here in the region sharing the same experience?
  • Do I need to be concerned about potential cold snaps (and the implications thereof) before we’ve moved into spring? I’m worried about a cold snap and potentially freezing temperatures in the next month that could damage these trees
  • Repotting and maintenance considerations - several of the trees I have appear to be on the move - any reasons not to proceed with pruning and repotting as needed?

Chinese elm showing buds swelling

Japanese maple showing buds swelling

Japanese larch showing massive bud break and growth. This particular tree is currently in a fabric grow bag planted in the ground. I’m wondering if the warmer ground temperatures have something to do with the intense activity? I have another larch in a pot on the bench that still looks quite dormant.


If you have a thermometer, measure your ground temp in the shade… and your pot temp.
I’m on the east side of Wa. State. Saw in ground maple seedlings showing leaves last Monday.

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In the mid valley in Oregon. Repotted 2 stewartia and a hornbeam this week

already since they have already started pushing hard. But this year, low temps are 5-7 degrees warmer than normal. Last year I didn’t repot most of my deciduous til mid-march, but we had a very dry January and then a very cold February with low’s 4-6 BELOW normal. Thus the danger of using a calendar for managing our bonsai.

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Ryan answered this in The forum Q&A two weeks ago as I had this very same problem (here in Golden Colorado). Yes, you should protect if temps get down to 34 degrees. 32 is probably fine but he said he wouldn’t chance it. The cat is out of the bag, you can’t put it back in. But you can prevent the water that’s now moving in the tree from freezing and you can prevent further bud break and full leafing. Keep out of heat, sunlight and try to hold them back a bit. Repot now if necessary and put on heatmat to get those roots going early. I forget all else he said but that was my take away. Here’s the link, it’s the very first question.