The peas can probably be planted, radishes are still risky and some of the daffodils are already done.
Warm winter weather is throwing a monkey wrench into Pierce County gardening schedules.
That means some plants are blooming early. With others, despite the recent spring-like temperatures, gardeners would do well to hold off planting for a few more weeks.
Many plants seem about two or three weeks ahead of schedule, said Tacoma Metro Parks horticulturalist Steve Herbig.
Star magnolias usually don’t blossom until the tulips come out, but Herbig has seen the plant already blooming. Some of the daffodils he’s seen have passed full bloom and are on the decline.
“If it happens to be in a warmer micro-climate, they’ve come on two weeks or more ahead of normal schedule,” he said. “If it’s in a colder spot, they may be just a few days to a week ahead of schedule.”
One of the roses in the garden at Point Defiance Park already has a flower bud, he said.
“This is pretty new,” he said of the warm winter.
Usually, the rose garden blooms about mid June, though Herbig said he’s seen it happen by mid or late April. If the warm weather sticks, he figures this year’s roses might bloom in late May or early June.
“They’re getting what they need,” he said of the plants already in bloom.
The danger, he said, is that higher temperatures aren’t carrying over into the evenings, and that can harm new growth.
A blooming plant, he said, “comes out and it’s still real tender. When it’s 50 degrees out during the day and it drops to 30, it hasn’t had a chance to acclimate.”
The result can be shoots that look wilted and almost burned.
“You get a cold spell, a few days to a week later go out, and you see the new growth that may be a inch or an inch and a half long start to turn brown, almost like someone took a heat gun to it and dried out the tips,” he said.
That generally doesn’t kill the plant, but it can kill the shoots, he said.
He cautioned that early blooms don’t mean a longer season for the plants, just that the time frame has shifted.
“Just get out and enjoy it,” he said. “Some areas, it may disappear pretty quick.”
Overall, he hasn’t seen significant damage to Pierce County’s horticulture because of the mild winter.
“So far I haven’t seen anything that’s really suffering,” he said.
The good weather has gardeners raring to go, and in some cases that’s just fine for the plants.
But South Sounders should remember how the weather changes best planting practices, said Alice Dionne with the Washington State University Master Gardeners program in Pierce County.
She’s been cleaning up some plants in her University Place garden, clipping off dead growth. But people in cooler areas, such as East Pierce County, might want to wait a few more weeks for that, she said.
“In town, it’s a lot warmer,” Dionne noted. “You can do a lot more now. You don’t want to do it if it’s going to freeze.”
A compromise for outlying areas still reaching freezing temperatures is to cover pruned plants with light fleece blankets overnight. That can keep them about 5 degrees warmer.
Concrete, buildings and roads keep city soil warmer than places such as Bonney Lake, Dionne said.
Cold crops, such as mustard greens and snow peas will probably do OK planted now.
But Pierce County gardeners should hold off on radishes, carrots, beats and other root crops, Dionne said. If planted too soon, the seeds have the potential to just sit in the ground and rot.
“You’ll just have to buy them again a couple weeks later,” she said.
Most important is to follow the directions closely on seed packets, she said. And the newer the seeds, the better. Packets with a 2015 date are preferable.
A soil thermometer is a good way to check whether the ground has reached the recommended temperature for the seeds.
Where plants come from matters, too, given the weather.
Perennials from local nurseries are acclimated to the temperatures and probably can safely go in the soil now. But those at big box stores often come straight from warmer climates, such as California, and likely won’t fare well just yet.
“In a few weeks, things will be more stable,” Dionne said.