Plants spring ahead of calendar

2013-02-02T00:00:00Z Plants spring ahead of calendarby SARAH SIPEK MEDILL NEWS SERVICE nwitimes.com
February 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Plants are in bloom and spring seems to be just around the corner.

Too bad it's only Feb 2.

While last Tuesday's warm temperatures were a welcome respite for Chicago area residents accustomed to the season's traditional chill, they could potentially prove dangerous to the city's plant life.    

"We've had some people calling in and saying that they're seeing small buds popping up from the ground and asking what to do," said Doris Taylor, plant clinic manager at Morton Arboretum in Lisle. 

Her response has been simple.

While it is a novel sight to see budding plants in January, it is nothing to be overly concerned about.

"They haven't been given too much of a chance to open, so there won't be too much damage," Taylor said.

According Linda Johnston, a florist at Bloom3 in Evanston, early blooming occurs because rising temperatures trick plants into thinking that it is the right time wake up from their winter dormancy. 

"The same thing happened last year," she said.  "We had a string of warm weather that lead to plants blooming three weeks earlier than expected." 

Because the plants were exposed to only one unseasonably warm day, the falling temperatures will likely only impact the tips of petals, Taylor said.  Steady cold temperatures, such as those in the forecast, will hold plants at their current stage of development until spring officially arrives.   

The more pressing issue is the lack of water.

Taylor said entering the month of January, the Chicago area was at an 8-inch rain deficit.

This could be as dangerous to plants as an early bloom.   

"Plants pull water from their root system in order to bloom in spring," Taylor said.  "If they don't have any moisture to pull from then their ability to bloom could be impacted."

That was one of the benefits of Tuesday night's rainstorms. According to the National Weather service, O'Hare Airport received 1.33 inches of rain. That brought the monthly precipitation total to just over 3 inches, double the average for this time of year.

Given the recent unpredictability of the weather, there are a few steps that gardeners can take to protect their plants.

Taylor and Johnston both suggested covering plants with a burlap sack to protect against a deep frost.

In addition, a cylinder cage can be put over plants to help block out the wind.

While gardeners can step in to protect their plants, Johnston wonders if the plants will have to start chipping in.

"Plants are going to have to evolve," Johnston said. "With the weather being as weird as it's been, they're going to have to find a way to deal with it."

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