Wichita’s plants are acting like spring’s already here

02/29/2012 5:00 AM

03/01/2012 8:40 AM

Sometimes the first of March slips by unnoticed for being the first day of meteorological spring, giving place to the vernal equinox and the first day of astronomical spring on March 20.

But when the temperature is forecast to hit 72 and the apricot tree at the entrance to Botanica is in full bloom and there really hasn’t been much of a winter, isn’t it time to just state the obvious and make it official?

Thursday’s forecasted high of 72 is 20 degrees above normal, said Vanessa Pearce, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. Only one night in the next week is expected to drop below freezing – Friday.

“Once it quits freezing at night, everything thinks it’s a free-for-all to get going,” Botanica landscape supervisor Pat McKernan said Wednesday, noting that quince, dwarf irises, crocuses, snowdrops, petasites, Lenten roses, boxwoods and winter honeysuckle have taken their cue and started blooming. Peonies are pushing up out of the ground, and the buds of ornamental pear trees are swelling.

The most dramatic sign of spring is the Peggy Clarke ornamental apricot in full pink bloom at the entrance to Botanica.

“She’s gorgeous,” McKernan said.

He’s seen similar flowering this early in the year, but “I don’t ever remember this long of a stretch” of amenable temperatures.

After a couple of days in the 50s, highs are forecast to be in the 60s next week.

Probably because of bitter experience, McKernan is not convinced that we’ve seen the last of winter. When the sap is flowing through plants that have woody stems, they can be damaged if temperatures fall into the teens, he said. Bark on trees could split in single-digit temperatures. The length of time that temperatures stayed low would have a lot to do with the extent of damage, he said.

“I still think we’re going to get zapped pretty good,” McKernan said. “If we don’t, what’s summer going to be like?”

We’ve all been wondering.

Pearce said that the extended outlook through June shows temperatures that are slightly above normal.

She said active weather that gave Wichita a tornado watch on Tuesday night could keep things hopping in the near term. “When you’ve got increased wind every other day, it’s another system coming through.”

But a return to winter?

“It’s hard to rule anything out,” Pearce said, but added, with a slight snicker, “We’ve skirted by it so far.”

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