Wichita may be warm, but experts advise waiting before planting

She usually waits until after April 15 to put her impatiens in the ground.

But the early spring and 80-plus-degree days Wichita’s been having lately have made Linda Leslie, well … impatient.

Leslie was among the first customers at Denning’s Greenhouse & Garden, a gardening center at 10707 W. 21st St. that opened for the season on Saturday morning.

Even though the calendar suggests a freeze or frost is still possible, Leslie decided to use the weekend’s warm weather to get her spring planting done.

“I looked at the forecast, and it looks like it’s going to be fine,” she said. “We’ll take the risk.”

Unseasonably warm weather and early blooms have infected many local gardeners and nature lovers across the area with potentially premature spring fever.

On Saturday, people took advantage of temperatures in the mid-80s by crowding into gardening centers and flocking to see tulips and trees at places such as Botanica, Belle Plaine’s Bartlett Arboretum and the Tree Festival at the Extension Center at 21st and Ridge Road.

But those giving in to their spring planting urges are taking a risk, say local green thumbs. In Kansas, plants aren’t considered safe outside until after April 15.

At Denning’s, owner Jim Denning is advising his customers to hold off on making big planting purchases for a little while longer.

“Even though it seems unlikely when it’s 80-some degrees outside, you have to look at the calendar,” Denning said. “I’ve got pictures and video of end-of-March blizzards that I can’t get out of my mind.”

Kevin Darmofal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita, said he agrees that it’s too early to plant.

Wichita’s normal low temperature for this time of year is 39 degrees, he said. Even though it’s been unseasonably warm, freezes and frosts are still possible until after the middle of April. A cool front arriving on Tuesday will drop overnight lows back into the 40s.

Wichita’s last frost was on March 10, which is an unnaturally early last-frost date.

“It is still early spring, and Mother Nature can still give us a bout of cooler weather, so we still need to be on guard,” Darmofal said.

At Tree Top Nursery, 5910 E. 37th St. North, assistant manager Eric Denneler says he hasn’t seen a spring like this in the 15 years he’s worked there.

His customers are largely ignoring the warnings and planting anyway, he said. They can’t believe freezing temperatures are even a possibility after the spring Wichita has had.

“I think people are more basing their buying off of the temperature than the calendar,” he said. “It feels like time, so they’re buying.”

Linda Leslie’s husband, Rick, has a plan to protect their purchases should a freeze threaten. He’ll just cover the flowers and plants with bedsheets, he said.

But he doesn’t think he’ll have to.

“It’s supposed to get up to almost 90 degrees,” he said of Sunday’s forecast. “It’s almost like it’s summer.”