The advantages of a late spring

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

In the middle of March, I really got excited about the warm spring temperatures, an omen of an early spring. In fact, I was so sure that we were going to get an early spring, I took the top off my Jeep, which requires two people and about 30 minutes worth of effort.

Needless to say, I have been driving around town, bundled with a stocking cap, insulated coat and insulated coveralls for the last month. My wife doesn't want to ride with me, but my grandkids do.

Over the last month weather forecasters have been talking about frost and freeze warnings. They have been cautioning gardeners to cover plants time after time. I guess I have to ask the question, "Is there anything really good about having a late spring?"

Unequivocally, the answer is yes.

For starters, you get to enjoy flowering plants a lot longer during a cool spring. Generally, plants that bloom early in the spring, such as forsythia, serviceberry, dogwood and redbud, can withstand frost and cold temperatures. In addition, cool temperatures extend blooming time. Forsythia bloomed this spring for more than a month.

Working in your garden or landscape is so much more enjoyable when the temperatures are in the 50s and 60s than when they are in the 80s and 90s. Many people would argue with me, but their arguments don't count.

Cool temperatures in the spring slow the rate of the natural progression of plant leaf and flower development. Therefore, if you are spraying, pruning or fertilizing on a timetable that is determined by plant development, you are not quite as pressed for time.

For example, some of the oaks and walnuts still have not produced leaves. During most springs, the cutoff date for a dormant spray would be sometime in late March. Yet here it is the middle of April and you probably still can make those applications.

If you haven't made a crabgrass pre-emergent application to your lawn, guess what? You still have time to make that application. The cool temperatures have not allowed most soils to warm up enough for crabgrass seed to germinate. Normally I would not recommend a crabgrass pre-emergent application this late in the spring.

Cole crops love an extended cool spring. After all, they are cool-weather crops. Hot temperatures cause premature bolting and increase the chances of insect infestations.

If you have planted pansies, rejoice. They like cool temperatures. When temperatures rise, pansies undergo a meltdown.

Even if you have planted warm-weather plants like tomatoes and impatiens, cool temperatures present you with a unique opportunity. All of the effort you expend covering, uncovering and covering again results in plenty of physical activity -- something we all need.

All I have heard about during the last few weeks are complaints about the cold weather. I just thought that we ought to find something good about the cool spring temperatures.

After all, I don't want our weather forecasters to develop a complex.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to

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