Expert explains early warmth impact on plants, crops

Weather

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOOD) — Our first signs of spring are starting to pop despite the fact we are only a few days into February. And while the flash of green is a welcome sign to some, it also brings concern.

In years like 2012, a stretch of early 80 degree weather coaxed our fruit trees into full bloom, and set them up for massive damage when a hard frost returned later in the season. So, with early signs of spring popping in the heart of winter, we wanted to ask a local plant expert Rick Vuyst if we should be worried about future plant damage.

Vuyst says he plants that are budding and sprouting now are usually the first to do so each year. This includes the Hellebore, Magnolia, Witch Hazel and bulb plants.

Early blooms in West Michigan on Feb. 4, 2020.

However, their current stage of growth is about a month or so ahead of schedule. This is due to the fact that the soil is so warm. Plants that are in south-facing positions and near the foundations of homes will be the first to bud or sprout because of the warmer soil. Vuyst says without the insulating layer of snow this season, the sunshine has been able to boost soil temperatures close to 40, allowing for growth.

A soil temperature of 60 degrees is typically when spring launches into full bloom, and we have a long way to go until we get to that point.

Any plants that have budded or sprouted will respond to changes in the weather but shouldn’t die. A return to colder temperatures will slow growth and suspend any buds or sprouted bulb plants at their current state without harming them.

Vuyst says, we only need to worry if we continue a pattern of very warm back-to-back temperatures when we get to March. That is when a series of warm days would allow several plants to break dormancy and potentially blossom (instead of just bud) and expose them to the risk of frost.

Long story short, Vuyst says, “fear not!” The current warmth and sunshine won’t damage our plants this spring.

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