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Confused winter won't harm fruit crops

November 30, 1999|By ERIN JULIUS

This year's confused winter ? with warm temperatures in January and snowstorms in March ? is not expected to harm the county's fruit crops, said Joseph Fiola, a specialist in viticulture (grape-growing) with the University of Maryland Extension Office.

Fruit blooms are delayed this year, which actually might prevent blooms from damage by late frost, he said.

"The risks of frosts are going down considerably," Fiola said.

Fruit trees in the region have evolved over the years of weather fluctuation and adapted to the weather, Fiola said. Peach trees, for example, usually produce 100 times more blooms than necessary because they bloom first. When early blooms are damaged by late frosts, the tree still has enough blooms to produce fruit, Fiola said.

Jon Snavely of Snavely's Garden Corner recommends that amateur gardeners wait about two weeks before embarking on any major gardening projects.

February and March were cold months, so the soil still is quite cool, he said.

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"The combination of cold soil and very wet soil means we need to wait a little while before we plant," Snavely said.

There is no set date to start planting, and each year is different, Snavely said. Last year at this time, the ground already was workable, he said.

For those who really want to dirty their hands in the garden, now is the perfect time for winter cleanup, including raking up accumulated leaves, pruning back perennial plants and cutting off dead branches, Snavely said.

Smaller plants, especially pansies, can withstand freezing and thawing if planted in soil that has been worked over and enriched with nutrients, Snavely said. Snapdragons and primroses also are hardy plants Snavely recommends for early planting.

All cold-crop vegetables, including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale, also can also go in the ground now, said Jack Lovell of Lovell's Nursery Inc. Onions and potatoes also are hardy enough to plant now.

"They like growing when it's cold," he said.

Strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb also can stand up to the cold, he said.

The only problem with planting in March is it sometimes is too muddy, Lovell said. Wait until the ground dries out and plants should grow fine, he said.

In about a week, it will be time to care for lawns by putting down a pre-emergent herbicide to kill weeds still in the ground from last year, Lovell said.

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