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Cover the plants

By Robert Galin Herald staff writer

Recent above-normal temperatures and drier weather may have lulled some gardeners into thinking winter was over, but the National Weather Service said the area will see cold, windy conditions today, possibly followed by rain and snow tonight and Tuesday and sub-freezing temperatures Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.

Temperatures on the valley floors, including Durango, could be in the low 20s by Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, said Matthew Aleksa, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the Grand Junction office. He said the foothills and mountains will see lows in the teens.

Highs Tuesday will be in the mid- to upper 30s, with rain and snow possible for tonight and Tuesday morning, Aleksa said.

The storm passing through the area today and Tuesday could leave less than an inch of rain, and 1 to 3 inches of snow in Durango, Aleksa said. The better news is in the mountains where as much as 8 to 10 inches of snow could accumulate.

That mountain snow could help stabilize the snowpack, which has been melting quickly because of above-average temperatures, Aleksa said.

A strong low-pressure system is responsible for today’s storm, according to Aleksa. The storm brings strong winds that start out dry and cold, but periods of heavy rain could hit by this evening, he said.

Near-term climate forecasts include above-normal temperatures for the rest of April, and long-term predictions still call for a dryer, hotter and longer summer, Aleksa said.

Some fruit trees have already began flowering, so John Wickman, owner of Native Roots Garden Center & Gift Shop, suggested that owners spray trees with a very fine mist of water after temperatures go below freezing so they are coated with ice.

Wickman said that he’s done that in the past, and his trees at the nursery are still green while others around town turn black from freezing.

Gardeners with other plants in the ground or in pots outside should cover the plants with something like Frost Guard or row cover fabric, or even an old blanket, he said. However, that only holds true if it is cold and dry; if it rains or snows, the plants should not be covered since that moisture will be good for them, Wickman said.

“Snow is the best scenario,” he said.

The fabric covers raise temperatures several degrees, and many plants are fine with temperatures in the upper 20s, he said.

Wickman also suggested that people not over-water or fertilize their plants too soon and force lush growth early in the season. Additional weather systems could bring in more freezing temperatures.

Although it’s early to put out tomatoes or peppers, Wickman said that if someone has put them out, a wall of water (several brands available) will help protect them.

He said this spring has actually been wetter than last spring, and he’s not worried about the long-term climate forecasts.

“I take it a week or two at a time,” he said.

Wickman said he does think that eventually more people will begin using xeric plants instead of some of the popular water-hogging standbys. Xeriscapes are gardens that require little supplemental water, according to the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico.

In the meantime, Wickman reminded tree owners that no matter how dry this summer becomes, they need to keep watering their trees.

rgalin@durangoherald.com

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