Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Oh, no! Another sunny spring day!

A doomed magnolia blossom

Only a perverse gardener, I guess, could be appalled at the weather guy's prediction of yet another March day of record-breaking warmth. But I'm dreading it.

In Chicago, as in most of the East and Midwest, it's more like July than March, with a five-day string of record temperatures in the 80s. Monday's dip down to 78 was a brief respite; it's supposed to be back up toward 83 Tuesday. All over my neighborhood today I saw shorts and flip-flops and sappy grins and flowers.

So why am I so distressed? What's not to like about magnolias, forsythias, daffodils, scilla, weeping cherries, redbuds, even crab apples bursting into bloom? Because they're not due for another month or more, that's why. We're spending all the blooms of April and the early part of May in a few hot days in March. And then what will we do for the rest of the spring?

Last year, after a winter that I remember fondly for almost constant snow cover,  we had a lovely, long, cool, moist spring that kept a splendid tapestry of bloom going for many weeks. This year, I fear the whole spring is about to dry up and blow away.   
It's not just us. According to this Washington Post story, it was 94 Sunday in South Dakota and International Falls, Minn., has set records in 9 out of the last 10 days.

Is this the coming of global warming doom? No, it's a weather fluctuation caused by a stationary cold front in the west. As I explained a few days ago in a story in the Chicago Tribune about how gardeners can adapt, climate change doesn't guarantee warmer weather. But it does mean that there will be an overall tendency toward more extreme weather events -- and this awful March sunshine certainly qualifies.   
Bloodroot blooming too soon
As a general rule, I expect native plants, evolved for the unexpected, to be less faked out by crazy Midwestern weather swings than imported species from more orderly climates. And sure enough, the Mediterranean daffodils -- all of them, early, mid- and now late-season varieties -- have been blooming like fools for 10 days now. But this heat has pushed even native plants to lose their heads. In 2011, my bloodroot and sharp-lobed hepatica bloomed in the second week of April. This year, the hepatica was in bloom on March 12 and the bloodroot by March 19. The Virginia bluebells, which normally bloom with the daffodils in April and May, aren't flowering yet, but they're 6 or 7 inches out of the ground.

Which brings me to another worry: Everything's out of whack. Things that are supposed to bloom at the same time aren't. Where will the bees get pollen if all the spring flowers are gone too soon? What about all the native insects whose hatching and feeding is precisely coordinated to plants flowering and leafing out? Sandhill cranes are migrating early, and I've been seeing all sorts of unexpected bids. What are they finding to eat, I wonder? 

And how will it end? The weather guy promises thunderstorms Thursday (and at least where I live, we need the rain. I had the sprinklers out Sunday for some shrubs I had planted last fall). Behind the front is a sharp drop -- down to 30 at night by the weekend. Which is pretty normal, for March, actually. But it's going to be hell on those magnolias.

I, personally, will be relieved, not just because I sleep better when it's cool but because a return to normal might salvage some spring. Maybe it will even get cool enough for my lettuce seeds to germinate.     



Crelatia said...

Wow! I'm feeling the same way. I love seeing the flowers - but I'm concerned about my sugar snap peas, arugula, radishes, chard and lettuces. At least the five day forecast keeps us below 70.

Gin said...

Have had the same thoughts about the timing. I am also nervous about a frost. Will a hard frost kill most everything that has popped up? I did not know the bees were so sensitive to bloom time. Argh.

But I also really enjoyed the weather. :)