It’s that time again. I am starting to despise this process – writing an article to change the weather. I typically disapprove of messing with Mother Nature, but when push comes to shove, I will shove.
But spring has sprung, and unfortunately, it seemed to start in late January. As we look to our friends and relatives in the Midwest, Southeast and especially the Northeast, we have compassion. Ice storms, thundersnow and feet upon feet of snow piled in the streets have become a mainstay of their lives. Meanwhile, we are kayaking, fishing, skiing on slush (not to mention observing idiotic teenage boys skiing without shirts – never really understood that one) and walking around in shorts and flip-flops.
A mid-winter warm up is not unheard of. We typically see a week or so of elevated temperatures during this time of year. But it doesn’t usually last this long. Before “cooling down” this week to highs in the 40s, we had 14 days with highs above 50 degrees (three of those days we peaked at 60 degrees). No two ways about it, that’s warm.
In the plant world, it can cause some confusion. Many of our woody and herbaceous perennials go into dormancy back in November and December. The plant slows down the majority of its processes, and goes into what could probably be compared to hibernation in the animal world.
There is still some uptake of water and nutrients, roots may still be growing, but other than our conifers (pines, junipers, spruces and such), plants really don’t transpire (lose water vapor through the stomata of leaves), and respiration (the process of burning sugars to yield energy for growth) is minimal. But when temperatures warm, it is not uncommon for plants to wake up.
Many of us have our spring bulbs springing early. Crocuses are in bloom a couple of weeks too early, and tulip and daffodil leaves have broken ground and will continue to put on new growth.
Garlic, a bulb we plant in the fall, typically four to six weeks before the ground freezes, emerges in spring and continues to grow until we harvest it in late summer. But in some parts of our area, garlic shoots already are 1 to 3 inches in height. This may result in poor spring growth and early bulbing, which will in turn result in smaller heads and a decrease in production.
More alarming, especially for those of us that love fruit, is that we are starting to see our tree fruit breaking bud. What this means is that the tree’s (apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and cherry) fruit buds, which were set last fall, are ready to blossom. The combination of higher temperatures and little to no precipitation only exacerbates the situation.
If you are curious if your fruit trees are starting to break bud, go outside and give them a squeeze. Buds that are starting to break dormancy tend to be stickier to the touch; they are probably larger than what they were during the previous months; and bud scales (think of shingles on a roof) begin to separate at the tip, revealing paler interior bud scales. Flower buds at this stage can still tolerate colder temperatures (10 to 15 degrees) but as they progress, their cold tolerance decreases.
So what can you do?
Unfortunately, not much. Perhaps try writing a letter to the editor.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.