Spring flowers blooming early in warm weather

Friday, March 09, 2012

This winter has brought many cold days, but also a lot of unusually warm temperatures, and the spring like weather has tricked plant life into blooming early.

Delaware Valley gardeners have reason to celebrate this year. They can now grow plants that were impossible a few years ago. The extra warm

winter has given plants a head start.

"This year, everything is happening during the week of the flower show, and it really is a week to 10 days early this year," said Anthony Aiello of Anthony Aiello.

The buds are popping and the bulbs are blooming all over the Delaware Valley. In past years, gardeners got their early season fix at the flower show.

This year, the blooms are in their own back yards. And many are dreaming of putting in new plants that never could have survived in the past.

That's because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its map of plant hardiness zones.

Philadelphia used to be 6b. Now we're 7a. That means plants that we are used to seeing only around Washington and Baltimore can be grown in Philadelphia.

"We can grow English Hollies pretty easily now; Southern Magnolias, which you could always grow in Washington, but were always a little bit temperamental in Philadelphia, you can grow those now. Some of the very cold hearty camellias and crepe myrtles, we can grow all of those with pretty good reliability these days," Aiello explains.

It's easy to get carried away. But a hard freeze is still possible. Bulbs like daffodils won't be harmed, but flowering trees like magnolias could take a withering hit.

You can plant hardy annuals like violets now, but hold off on most other stuff, although you may be able to get them in earlier.

"The rule of thumb is always Mother's Day," said Aiello. "You could probably get by with the last week in April if you are really eager to get out there," Aiello said.

Last year we had piles of snow still on the ground in March. Now, it's snowdrops and crocuses spreading a colorful carpet.

But, before you get too eager, the experts at the Morris Arboretum say don't jump the gun.

"It still could get cold, and the pants haven't really started to leap out and acclimate to spring yet, so be patient," says Aiello.

Yes, be patient with the impatiens. If you start planting now, you just know it will trigger the great Easter Sunday Blizzard of 2012.

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