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Spring Ahead

The unusual warmth should not have any ill effects on plants and trees.

Anyone could be forgiven for having been fooled this week.

People in tank tops, shorts, and flip flops strolled along the streets. Children stood outside juggling huge ice cream cones, the creamy treat dribbling down their chins. Convertibles sped by, their tops down and stereos cranked up. Daffodils bloomed and the parks were full of rambunctious canines, their tongues dangling long and low in thirst.

The extraordinarily warm southern breezes that enveloped us this week made it seem more like Memorial Day than St. Patrick’s Day.

Yet, we all know the inevitable shift back to seasonably appropriate weather is unavoidable. Even if we follow author and radio personality Garrison Keillor’s advice of “looking reality straight in the eye and denying it,” we will, most likely, have to endure a few more chilly days ahead.

We will comply, as hearty New Englanders are wont to do; but what about our trees and plants that have been lulled into a false sense of security? How will our gardens fare in the weeks to come?

“Plants have a way of adapting,” states Gordon Kenneson, a horticulturist who works for . “I’m a great optimist that, despite the unusual weather, our gardens will be just fine.”

Kenneson says that plants are blossoming several weeks ahead of schedule and that has many people jumping the gun on garden work, fertilizing and seeding. He is recommending that they wait until after Easter.

He is also seeing many customers eager to fill in the gaps in their landscaping left from the destructiveness of last October’s snowstorm. “A lot of people can see their neighbors,” he jokes.

Across town, at , flats of pansies were the only item being displayed outside. The nursery’s part-owner, Tom Calvi, was busy setting up his retail space, an unusual activity for him in mid-March. “I’m usually home this time of year, sitting by the wood-burning stove.”

Calvi says that plants and trees are three weeks ahead of schedule, pointing to a weeping pussy willow in bloom and a beautiful, pink Cornell Azalea awash with flowers in a nearby neighbor’s yard.

For those who can’t wait to have some color outside their homes, Calvi suggests sticking with pansies because of their hardiness. If the weather should get frosty, he recommends covering them at night. Cold crop items, such as lettuce, broccoli, kale and collard greens can also be planted soon but, Calvi warns, if it remains as warm as it has been, the cold crop will bolt up quickly and then turn to seed. “Sometimes we can get two cold crops in the spring, but this year there might be just one.”

And what if we get a few snowstorms in the coming weeks? Calvi states that unless we have temperatures well below the freezing mark for an extended period, the snow will just slow the plant growth down a little. Yet he warns it is going to be a bumper crop of chipmunks this year. The little creatures that bedevil so many gardeners have been taking advantage of the warm weather to breed in full force.

was holding its annual Greenhouse Flower Show this week. Inside the greenhouse it was a sea of brightly colored spring blooms. Outside, just under some trees, daffodils stood tall and proud. Their cheery, yellow heads swayed in the gentle, warm breeze – a juxtaposition very rare for this time of year.

In fact, daffodils were spotted all over town, wherever the sun shone brightly. West Hartford Patch editor Ronni Newton, who has them growing along her driveway, commented that she had never seen daffodils sprouted this early since she lived in Virginia years ago.

Landscaping consultant suggests taking advantage of these beautiful days as a  “perfect opportunity to get ahead of the game and prepare your garden.” He is not averse to planting peas or cold crop vegetables soon but warns to cover them if there is frost.

Having been in the business for decades, Patrissi has seen all kinds of weather conditions and, he too believes that plants and trees can cope with the area’s quixotic weather conditions. In fact, he has high praise for the mother of all mothers.

“Mother Nature is pretty smart and she knows how to take care of her own.”

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