JACKSONTOWN – It’s safe to assume that few people are complaining about this year’s early spring blooms and unseasonably warm weather (at least early in the season), but Dawes Director of Horticulture Mike Ecker said it increases the amount of time plants are subject to frost damage and unseasonably warm winters may be adversely affecting maple trees that never quite catch up on their sleep.
“ The biggest problem I can see now with early warm temperatures is a lot of lush foliage and f lowers being vulnerable to a killing freeze,” said Ecker. He said we’re about six weeks out from the normal frost free date in May, which isn't really a "frost free" date, either. Ecker said this type of early growth happened about four years ago when a week of 80 degree temperatures pushed things early, especially Japanese maples. “Then, it dropped to 17 degrees and we had whole plants killed to the ground and others with trunk cracks and dead branches,” he said.
Ecker said so far this season the lows have caused some flower loss such as magnolias, but that's fairly common. “I don't see serious stem damage— yet,” he said. “With such a warm winter I'd expect lots of insects since they have essentially been on a tropical holiday.”
Ecker said one theor y on a decline of sugar maples observed over the past decade or so is the warm winters are not allowing the tree to go into deep dormancy. This means sugar maples and other trees continue using energy to keep their systems working. “The thought is they are starving to death due to using more energy than they are producing,” he said. “Each year they become weaker ‘til the whole system fails.” But keep in mind, “This is a theory,” said Ecker. “I don't think it's been proven.”