Originally created 03/15/97

Early spring steals Masters' flowers



Take a Polaroid - fast.

Area natives who want to share the beauty of Augusta in bloom will have to keep a photo in their wallets for Masters visitors, who will arrive weeks after the city's flowers hit their peak, area green thumbs said Friday.

As azaleas blossom on Greene and Henry streets and dogwoods flower across the city, horticulturists have given up hope that the city's blooms will hold out for the second week of April.

"Mother Nature decides when she wants things to happen, and she's ready now," said Barry Smith, director of trees and landscape for Richmond County. "The last couple of weeks in March are going to be our colorful time, so enjoy it while you see it."

Some of the blooms will remain for Masters Week, but they will be on a downhill slide, Mr. Smith said. Many of the azalea bushes in the city - a type called Kurume azaleas - will peak next week, he said.

Taller, larger bushes known as Indica azaleas bloom later and should still be in bloom during Masters, although they will probably be in top form near the beginning of April. Other types of azaleas can bloom as late as May, and Mr. Smith said he was trying to incorporate them throughout the city.

A mild winter and early springlike temperatures have coaxed bushes and trees to bloom about two weeks ahead of schedule, said Sid Mullis of Richmond County's Cooperative Extension Service.

A mixture of early- and late-blooming flowers is used at Augusta National Golf Club, and plenty should be in bloom during the Masters Tournament, Mr. Mullis said.

Officials at the golf club have laughed at rumors that they ice down the flower beds or cover them with blankets, saying the acreage is too large to make such herculean efforts feasible.

Mr. Smith was skeptical of the rumor and said icing flower beds wouldn't be an option for the city, anyway.

"We'd have to start an ice factory," he said. "But actually, that doesn't do anything."