SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to an unusually warm winter along the Wasatch Front, the first buds of spring — irises, tulips and others — are already starting to poke their way out of the ground.
Are the spring flowers appearing too early this year, only to die off when cold weather hits again?
Not to worry, experts say. The greater concern should be with the weather over the next couple of months. Although warm, it still hasn't been warm enough for most plants and trees to emerge from their winter dormancy.
"The danger is if stuff comes out and it's at a critical stage, and then it freezes," said gardening expert Larry Sagers.
"It all depends on what happens with the weather," added Katie Wagner, of Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake City. "Winter isn't over yet."
Irises, crocuses, tulips and others are early-budding bulb plants that have a large root system, which helps them survive snow and freezing temperatures, she said.
"That's how they survive. ... That's their adaptation."
Ground temperature determines most when plants and trees bud and bloom, she said. Since ground temperature changes more gradually than air temperature, other plants and trees still remain dormant.
Wagner noted that in her yard, the small, yellow blooms of winter aconite have popped up on sunnier ground.
For some, the lack of precipitation this year is a greater concern.
Since November, gardeners at Salt Lake City's Temple Square have been hand-watering pansies, daffodils and other plants that were planted last fall, said Scott Trotter, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The flowers Temple Square visitors see in the summer are usually planted around mid-May when the danger of spring frost has passed.
Generally, that's considered to be around Mother's Day along the Wasatch Front, which — on average — is when the frost season ends, according to Wagner.
By mid-March, home gardeners may be able to begin planting cool weather vegetables, Sagers said.
Early blossoming fruit trees such as peach or apricot are most susceptible to cold snaps, while later-blooming apple and tart cherry trees tend to do better in Utah's uncertain spring weather.
"We always hope to not see many blossoms until the end of April," said Tod Rowley, of Rowley's South Ridge Farms in Santaquin. "That's when we stop pacing the floor at night."
His orchards still have a blanket of snow, which keeps the ground cold and buds from starting to open, Rowley said. Last week when orchard workers checked peach tree buds, they were still dormant.
He too is concerned with this winter's lack of rain and snow, so far. But growers are a bit like gamblers, and he is optimistic that will turn around, he added.
"We're hoping for a good crop."
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