I’m writing this on February 24, 2010. Right now we are in the grip of a winter that has delivered record breaking snowfall, well above average moisture, and below average temperatures. Our soil temperature here in North Texas is below 40 degrees at the surface. Gardeners who are usually busy planting by this time have been frustrated by the cold soggy conditions. Personally, I still have not planted my onions, potatoes, or any other cool season vegetables. As soon as we get a few dry days it rains or snows…..again! What a difference from last year when we were bone dry! On the positive side, our lakes and aquifers are being filled, our cattle are fat, and it appears we are going to make a decent wheat crop (if it doesn’t rot). The big question now is what will April bring?
The phenomenon that has caused this unusual weather is El Nino which is a warming trend in the Pacific off the coast of Peru. This warming of the ocean water causes a strong subtropical jet stream laden with moisture to flow across Texas. Low pressure systems form and ride along this jet stream bringing loads of clouds and rain when this Pacific moisture combines with moisture from the Gulf. This particular El Nino event is a strong one. At present it is predicted to last at least through April. What that should mean to gardeners is……..Get ready for a wet spring!!
Due to the cold temperatures this spring will be rather slow getting started, but when it does come, it promises to be a real show stopper. In the meantime, astute gardeners will be obliged to postpone planting dates. It is the warming of the soil and not the calendar dates that dictates the arrival of spring. In spite of this, we have seen quite a few North Texans who went ahead and applied corn gluten meal to suppress warm season weed germination in mid February. I hope they haven’t wasted their time and money.
Average gardening calendar dates work pretty well in most years. That’s why we have them. Be that as it may, it is always best to watch the signs. Buds swell on fruit trees, spring bulbs emerge, migratory birds fly north, and fish begin to move into the shallows to spawn. These are a few things that can tell us when spring truly arrives. All of these things are controlled by temperature. These signs are much better gauges than simply referring to an almanac, gardening calendars, or adhering to any schedule. In my experience, the blooming of local peaches and plums usually guarantees a couple more frosts and perhaps even one last hard freeze before all is said and done. At least that’s how it usually plays out in my part of North Texas.
Does this mean we will freeze in April this year? I think it quite likely. Will we follow spring with a wet summer? I wouldn’t bet on it. When the El Nino subsides, our weather should return to normal.
Looking back to last year once again, we had our worse range fire outbreaks in April. Normally April is wet enough that fire is not a problem but due to the dry fall and winter much of the state was a tinderbox. This April fire will not be much of a concern. Instead, some of us may experience flooding. April showers may turn into a deluge.
My advice for this spring is to not get in a rush. Don’t worry that the normal times for planting potatoes or pruning roses and what-have-you has already come and gone. Get out on the dry days and do what you can. Better late than never, as the old saying goes. It will warm up and dry out soon enough. Be ready to take action when the time comes. I would much rather have to deal with wet conditions than drought.
It behooves us to remember the dry times when we are stuck inside listening to rain hit the roof. I surprised quite a few listeners last weekend when I made the statement that I wished the rain would miss us during my Saturday radio program. I live in a drought prone area so I almost never complain about the rain (and yes, we actually had thunderstorms the next morning). Still, better wet than dry…..Eh??
So we see this sharp contrast between the beginning of 2009 and 2010. Opposite ends of the spectrum to be sure. As gardeners we are compelled to deal with these weather extremes so we must be prepared to roll with the punches. The only certainty is that Texas weather is uncertain. I am sticking my neck out here with these predictions, but I have noticed that in Texas we do tend to these extremes. Once we are dry we tend to fry, and once good and wet we tend to float. We are certainly good and wet at present so I feel confident that this will continue into the near future.
It is my hope that we don’t float this spring. By the time this gets published we should be seeing those early spring flowers beginning to bloom. Things may be a week or two behind schedule but I am confident the impending show will be worth the wait. I hope that we have “April showers” as opposed to violent thunderstorms but that, I realize, is foolish optimism. This is after all, Texas and severe weather comes with the real estate.
Remember above all that spring can be short and sweet in some years. This cold, wet winter followed by a wet spring, and then quickly progressing into a long, hot summer would not surprise me at all. That is about par for the course. So let us enjoy the abundant moisture and revel in the beauty that April brings us this year.
No doubt this will be an excellent time for planting trees, shrubs, and flowering perennials. Consider starting a vegetable garden if you don’t already have one. Raised beds provide positive drainage. Avoid using a rototiller on muddy soils. At least we have plenty of deep moisture to work with this year.
Support your local economy by patronizing your family owned businesses, especially your farmers markets and local nurseries. Grow your own when you can, and buy local when you can’t. We can change things for the better. We can be live in a sustainable, healthier, happier world. It is up to you and me to spin the wheels in the right direction. Consumers have the final word with the power of purchase. Use it wisely. Spread the word.