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Early Spring Means More Flowers -- and Pollen

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Q: We are having an early spring, bugs are everywhere, and the ragweed and tree pollen are awful. Are we going to have more gardening problems all summer?

A: Many places across the country had mild winters or had lots of snow cover during the coldest days and nights. Also, spring has come very early for many of the same areas. The fast onset of warm weather condensed several weeks of plant and animal growth into just a few days. Plants, insects and other cold-blooded animals grow when the temperature gets above a certain point, usually in the mid-50s to mid-60s. Warmer temperatures speed growth, and cooler ones slow it down.

Each day that is around 60 allows a little growth of the tree's buds and the insect's body. Some trees bloom after just a few days of warmer temperatures, and the insects that feed on that kind of tree match their growth because of the same temperature requirements. Other trees and insects need many days of 60 degrees to develop enough to bloom. Hot 80-degree days speed up the growth of everything, so a lot of plants are blooming together that normally would have bloomed over several weeks.

Ragweed species are annual plants that die in the fall, come back from seed and flower in the summer and fall. If you are really seeing ragweed pollen, it is left over from last year. Pollen grains from trees and flowers can last a long time and have even been found in archeological sites and in the centuries-old organic muck at the bottom of peat bogs. For pollen from last year's plants to still be floating around, the winter weather in your area must not have knocked all the dead flowers and plants to the ground.

The mild winter and protected soil allowed many insects, seeds and flower buds to survive the winter.

Some of the insects will be pests or nuisances, and some of the seeds will be from weeds. At the same time, there will be more beneficial insects and more 'good' plants, too. More insects will allow the animals that feed on them to have more food. This is a very good thing for most songbirds, because even if they eat seeds as adults, the babies are fed insects. The early warmer weather will allow some songbirds to raise two sets of babies.

The mild winter helped many of us who try to grow plants suited for slightly warmer winters in our colder areas. We often don't get as many flowers because the buds are frozen, or sometimes the plants are completely killed back to the ground. For instance, hydrangeas that die all the way to the ground have been budding out from their old branches, and forsythias are blooming much better than usual in the Midwest.

Trees that usually lose many flower buds over the winter are releasing much more pollen because they have many more flowers. Don't forget, there was hot and very dry weather last summer for much of the South. Trees often react to such stress by producing a lot more flowers. The seeds produced are often the last gasp attempt by the plant to produce as many offspring as possible.

So, more flower buds produced, more flower buds surviving the mild winter and more plants blooming at the same time will lead to a lot of pollen in the air. Relief is coming. The warm temperatures will cause the plants to continue growing at a rapid pace, and so spring blooming will be shorter. A shortened and condensed spring will lead to an earlier summer. We may have more insect problems and weeds, but will we will also have more birds and flowers. Let us hope and pray that the summer rains will come to replenish the shortfall from last year and keep everything watered.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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