April 29, 2012
Warm winters, fast spring
Right now I have bulbs blooming at the same time as azaleas, dogwoods, and dicentra. Ornamental grasses are seriously leafed out, clematis which is usually holding back this time of year is growing great guns, and there are weeds everywhere.
This is on of the fastest, freakiest springs in recent memory and the first day of spring was only a couple of weeks ago. Climatologists predict that though we will still have some cold winters, we are much more likely to see more winters and springs like the one we just had (are having). With these kinds of winter/springs we will have some benefits and negatives:
- Warmer winters may allow gardeners to grow some plants that before could only grow in milder climes. The wine grape industry, which relies on varieties that are only marginally cold-hardy in upstate New York, may benefit from warmer winters. Already, Leyland Cypress which was at one time considered not hardy enough for our area now proliferates the landscape.
- On the other hand, aggressive weeds and invasive plants will also move north. Studies show those species are better equipped than crops to take advantage of the increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that are driving warming.
- Pests and diseases that were held in check by the cold may become more of a problem. Lifecycles of beneficial insects may get out of synch with the pests they help control. Wooly Algedid and Bronze birch borer which had been held in check by the cold will abound with warmer winters.
- Natural ecosystems will shift north, with oak-pine forests replacing maple-beech-birch forests in some places, for example.
- Less reliable winter snow cover may hurt over-wintering of some perennial crops and flowers. This year was particularly hard on daffodils which bloomed very irregularly this spring.
- Hotter summers may cause heat stress even in warm-season crops such as tomatoes.
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