Complaining about a mild winter might seem like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but early spring blooms have gardeners, growers, and agricultural scientists worried across the country.
At the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, Japanese camellias have been blooming since early December. The flowers, which usually blossom in April, is displaying its rose-colored blossoms months early. The sensitive buds may be vulnerable to a cold snap, cutting down on seed production.
The Japanese camellias are just one among the many spring flowers that are getting an early start this year.
Apple orchards across the country are worried, as historically mild winters mean a shorter growing season and therefore a smaller harvest.
“The problem is when the bud gets so big and plump like that, if we got an ice storm or hard frost now, you could really damage your bud for the spring,” said Conservation Agent Joanne DiNardo in an interview with Jack Minch on Feb. 23 .
Maple syrup producers say they are already weeks ahead of schedule, and if it doesn’t get cold again soon there will be a very short season. Maple trees are among the first trees to bloom, and once that happens the syrup harvested is of a much lower quality. Syrup production needs cold nights followed by warmer days to produce large amounts of syrup. Syrup producer Ben Fisk has started to harvest and boil sap on Feb. 2, a full month earlier than usual.
“We made syrup the earliest we’ve ever made syrup this year,” he told AP news in an interview on Feb. 21. “This time of year, there should be three or four feet of snow, and it should be cold out and we shouldn’t even be thinking about making syrup for another couple weeks.”
Although it is imposable to judge the climate by one year’s weather, the mild winter is bringing a lot of talk about climate change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new national map of plant hardiness, the first one since 1990, and the changes are immediately apparent. New York, for one, has now been rated as a warmer zone.
Many are worried that the spring blooms of plants will come and go before the insect population has time to pollinate them.
“When plants get in this off-kilter blooming, sometimes it doesn’t coincide with the life cycle of the pollinator,” said Holly H. Shimizu, the executive director of the United States Botanic Garden in Washington told the New York Times. “If pollination doesn’t occur, then we don’t get the fruit production.”