After the autumnal leaf drop, little buds populate woody perennial stalks and twigs. They wear a protective coat of tough scales. Annuals and non-woody perennials do not dress their buds in scales. In both cases buds or rudimentary leaves or flowers rest from activity all winter then when the weather warms they wake, and kick into action fueling new growth and seed production. Remember, leaves are a plant’s food factory, and flowers are its reproductive organs.
A spate of warm weather may coax a plant to leaf or flower before the last freeze. In that case the plant may start over with new buds or die. There’s no hard and fast rule, but a fruit tree’s crop may be ruined.
Undeveloped leaf buds consist of “primordial” or primitive stems and leaves, little dots visible on twig ends, sides, and cradled in the joints where two stalks or twigs meet. A bud on the tip of a stem or twig is called its terminal bud. Because a stem’s pointy end is sometimes called its apex, this bud can also be called the apical bud. It releases a growth-prohibiting hormone, auxin, which lengthens the dormancy of other buds behind it, and enables the woody branch or stem to elongate.
When gardeners prune or shape a plant they cut off terminal buds. Bushy growth is the usual result. Sometimes multiple buds form. Leaf buds become the dappled green growth that characterizes the fresh breath of springtime.
BEWARE: Topping a tree or shrub is not the same thing as pruning. While topping may not kill a plant on the spot, it exponentially reduces the normal life span of the victim.
Visibly fat undeveloped buds on a stem are baby flowers. On fruit trees these may be called fruit buds, but until such flowers set fruit they are technically flower buds. Conditions that affect fruit development include soil health, weather, disease organisms, and pollinators.
Here’s food for thought. Some plants produce edible buds and bud stems. Head lettuces and cabbages are gigantic terminal buds. Like cauliflower? Brussels sprouts are more restrained. Broccoli is a bouquet of dainty buds and tasty fat stems. Artichoke hearts belong in this culinary group.
Sometimes buds appear in abnormal places on a plant like the edge of a leaf, or a callus on the cut end of a stem, or emerging from a root. These are called adventitious buds because they are a remarkable or unexpected plant ‘adventure.’ Cabbage is a two-fer growing adventure. Cut the mature head from its stem, but don’t pull out the roots. Keep watering, and often multiple small buds will emerge on the rim of the barren stem.