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Local growers say don't fret about mild weather

January 22, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Eight straight days of springlike weather earlier this month caused some unseasonable occurrences: Forsythia bushes burst into bloom and bulbs peeked from the ground.

But there's no need to worry, say local growers and nursery owners.

"I have a theory, Mother Nature will take care of herself. There's nothing you have to do," said Troy Gifft of Paramount Nursery in Hagerstown.

The warm snap, when temperatures ranged from between 58 degrees to 68 degrees, caused fruit trees to reach the stage they normally reach in March, said Matt Harsh of Clopper's Orchards in Smithsburg.

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As long as the area is spared a long stretch of single-digit temperatures, things should be okay, Harsh said.

"We're not too concerned about that right now," said Darold Starliper of Starliper Orchards in Mercersburg, Pa.

Craig Yohn, extension agent in Jefferson County, W.Va., said fruit trees need a certain number of "chilling hours" during the winter before they come out of dormancy. There haven't been enough chilling hours for fruit trees, Yohn said.

Bulbs and other plants, however, require fewer chilling hours, and therefore are more likely to respond to unseasonably warm weather, Yohn said.

Some daffodils have started to break through the ground, weeks ahead of their usual appearance.

When cold weather returns, a yellow tip will form on the daffodil plants, which will prevent frost damage from extending into the bulbs, said Gifft. The tip will die off in the spring when the plant comes to life again, said Gifft.

Warm temperatures followed by extreme cold can affect the number of blooms on some flowering trees, said Lori Webb of Oswald and Sons nursery in Smithsburg.

Wrapping trees in burlap helps protect them, Webb said. A product known as "Wilt-Pruf" can be sprayed on evergreens to help them retain moisture and prevent them from looking burned in the spring, Webb said.

Even the threat of ice today did not worry growers.

When ice forms on trees, it acts as an insulator, protecting them against the cold, said Tom Wolfe, of Wolfe's Orchard in Smithsburg.

The National Weather Service was predicting that an inch of snow might fall in the area by this morning. The precipitation was expected to change to freezing rain, followed by rain later in the morning.

"We don't expect trees to come down or anything like that," said Dewey Walston, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va.

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