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Warm weather could be bad for plant life
Gardeners can place cloth over plants when freezing is expected
Eddie Williams, of King Green, applies a pre-emergent spray to a client’s lawn in Hall County on Thursday afternoon as he prepares the yard for spring.

If the recent trend of warm temperatures continues, people who suffer from springtime allergies could be in for an early season of torment.

Last year, much of the country was covered in snow in early February. That is far from the case this year as much of the country is experiencing temperatures in the 50s or higher.

Temperatures in Gainesville on Thursday approached 70 degrees and are expected to roam near the 60s for the rest of the week.

Although the temperatures are welcomed by many, they could have a detrimental effect on area plant life.

"During the winter when we have had a couple of weeks of warm weather some of the plants have decided to come out of their dormancy and go active," said Caywood Chapman, a retired botanist and professor of biology emeritus at Gainesville State College.

The warm temperatures and longer days trigger a hormonal response in vegetation to begin another growth cycle. In some areas, trees and plants have already began budding.

Michael Wheeler, Hall County extension coordinator, said several plants including rose bushes have began growing new foliage while others are still dormant.

An early bloom could mean people accustomed to experiencing allergies in May might need to prepare for an earlier season.

"That's one thing that people need to be ready for if they know they have allergies," Wheeler said.

But the concern among ecologists is if the area experiences a late winter freeze and those trees and plants lose their chance to bloom.

"It's going to affect things differently, it just depends on how they are naturally cued into warm temperatures and day lengths," Wheeler said.

Chapman said that occurrence is not unusual. In many trees, he said, dual layers of rings are present, indicating a similar situation in past years.

"It clearly was not a year's growth, it was just a quick start-up and then a shut-down because it got cold again," Chapman said. "That's probably what will happen this year. We are probably due for some more cold weather."

The result of a winter freeze could mean less available fruit this year.

But plants are able to respond well to change, Chapman said. Returning cold weather could have a short-term effect, but long-term the plants will fare well.

"Plants have been around a lot longer than we have," he said. "They have seen a lot of erratic ups and downs in temperature."

Wheeler agreed that a freeze could be harmful but the vegetation would recover.

"Plants are pretty resilient and it's not going to affect them too badly. They will recover," he said.

Gardeners can take precautions if and when colder temperatures return, though. That includes placing a cloth sheet over plants when freezing temperatures are expected in order to prevent frost from reaching the plant, Wheeler said.

The unusually warm temperatures could be beneficial to landscaping companies, though.

Kenny Green with King Green lawn care in Gainesville, said business has not necessarily picked up significantly but it has provided relief.

"It just makes it easier on us because we are doing liquid application this time of year and we don't have to worry about freezing temperatures," Green said.

Barring a late winter freeze, Green said the company's peak season could occur sooner meaning increased profits.

But a freeze could also mean the peak season would be pushed back further than usual.

Jamie Mitchem, associate professor of geography at Gainesville State College, said while the warm temperatures are unusual, the length of time the temperatures have lingered is even more of a rare occurrence.

"We haven't necessarily broken a lot of records, so it hasn't always been extreme heat but it's just been for such a prolonged period," Mitchem said. "That's definitely having an impact on plants and animals."

But the effect on plants and animals is just a minor concern compared to the potential effect it could have on the severe weather season. Just a year after experiencing one of the worst severe weather seasons in recent years, there could be much of the same again this year, Mitchem said.

Because water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are not being cooled like they normally do in winter, the abnormally warm water could create a lot of humidity and energy leading to severe storms.

"The potential is there for it to be more than last year or something similar. All signs are pointing to a warm Gulf of Mexico, which means the potential for more severe weather," Mitchem said.


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