The calendar says May is knocking on the door, but Wichita’s trees aren’t buying it.
Thanks to an unusually cold spring, trees in the metropolitan area haven’t budded and leafed out like they normally do.
“They’re all late,” Mark McHenry, president of Hillside Nursery, said of the trees. “They’re all a good three to four weeks behind where they should be.
“Last year they were early to the party, and this year they’re late.”
Highs in the 80s for three straight days – including Tuesday – may have convinced Wichita’s trees and residents alike that spring had finally arrived, but another cold snap brings a chance of snow flurries to the area Thursday and Friday.
Any snow that falls isn’t expected to accumulate, National Weather Service meteorologist Vanessa Pearce said. But low temperatures will drop near freezing early Friday morning, she said.
Through April 26, this has been the third-coldest April in Wichita since records began being kept in 1889, according to the weather service.
“A lot of people are just kind of holding off,” said Rachel Westmoreland, head grower at Dutch’s Greenhouse. Annuals are “very tender when we get those cooler night temperatures.”
The warm early springs of the past two years have lulled folks into thinking that’s the new normal, she said.
“We used to be like this,” Westmoreland said of later planting. “A lot of people didn’t plant ’til Mother’s Day.”
This surge of springlike weather has drawn gardeners to local nurseries like moths to a flame, eager to get going.
“They’re all out here today,” McHenry said.
The weekend was busy, too.
Folks whose trees are late in budding or leafing out shouldn’t worry, McHenry said.
“They’re fine – they’re just late,” he said.
Nor is it too late for planting this season’s vegetables and flowers.
“We are running two to three weeks later than normal and, by comparison, a month and a half later than where we were this time last year,” said Bob Neier, Sedgwick County extension agent. “This year we are late. Last year we were a month and a half early.”
The soil temperatures are cold.
“What I am suggesting is that we should be treating and controlling things according to soil temperatures and the life cycles of plants and insects instead of out of habit for a certain date,” Neier said.
In light of the late-spring weather, Neier offered a host of timely tips.
• It is not too late to treat for crabgrass – it hasn’t come up yet.
• Friday was Arbor Day, a day when people are encouraged to plant and care for trees. But don’t let that date discourage you this year, Neier said. It’s not too late to plant a tree.
“If you have lost trees and want to plant something, the nurseries are all stocked up. Go for it,” Neier said.
• Although the trifecta of every gardener’s gamble – potatoes, peas and pansies – should all be in the ground, hold off on planting vinca or melons; it is still too cool for them.
But the biggest gamble this year, Neier said, is still unknown.
Is the drought still with us?
Despite all the recent moisture, Neier said, these are scary times for gardeners and farmers.
“Last year at this point, we had more soil moisture than we do now,” Neier said. “Last year, at this point, we weren’t in the drought. It came later in the season. I am not a meteorologist, but right now, I’d be looking for any way possible to save water.”
He’s hoping neighborhoods might host contests and reward as winners the people who fire up their sprinkler systems last.
“We have got to have water into the future,” he said. “If you are watering now, it is a waste of resources that you may wish you had later.”