Experts aren't worried about early-blooming peaches or backyard plants

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COLUMBIA — The unusually mild winter has led a number of plants to start blooming ahead of schedule. Horticulture experts said it’s not that big of a deal, and for now, people should just sit back and enjoy the early spring show.

“If we have a freeze, the stuff that has open blooms on it, they’re going to be lost. If it stays warm another two or three weeks, and then we have the bottom drop out, then it will damage a lot more,” said Powell Smith, a horticulture agent.

Even peach farmers in South Carolina and Georgia, whose trees need cold weather during the winter, but can’t have any freezes after the buds begins to bloom, aren’t too worried about the weather.

“What Mother Nature does, we don’t lose sleep over it. We’re cautious at this point, but there is no need to throw up the red flag,” said Chalmers Carr, owner of Titan Farms in Ridge Spring.

This winter hasn’t been the warmest on record in the major peach growing regions of the states, but the nights have been unusually mild. Columbia has had just 14 nights at freezing or below since the start of November.

But February isn’t the most nervous time for peach farmers. That comes several weeks later, in late March or early April, when the peach buds are out and growing.

A freeze then can be devastating.

In 2007, a late freeze wiped out more than 80 percent of the peach crop as the temperature dropped to 26 degrees in Columbia and 28 degrees in Macon. It was more than 20 degrees below the average low for that time of year.

Forecasters can’t say if there will be another late-season cold snap or even if there are that many days at or below freezing to come this winter.

As far as backyard gardeners go, there’s not much they can do about blooming plants either, Smith said.

Already, especially farther south, there are reports of magnolias, yellow jasmines, yellow maples and even some azaleas starting to bloom. A freeze now would likely prevent any additional flowers from growing, but won’t kill off the plants themselves. Things could get worse if the warm weather last a few more weeks and more things bloom, then freezing weather comes.

“If we go another two or three weeks and then everything opens up, a hard freeze is going to knock things out and we’re going to have to wait until next spring to enjoy the flowers,” Smith said.

The warm weather has been a boon for Carr in a different way. This has been one of the most comfortable winters he can remember for critical offseason chores like trimming trees and repairing fences and irrigation equipment.

“It’s been enjoyable to work outside this winter,” Carr said.


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