Early spring: What's wrong with this picture?

A typical April in Central Virginia: Tulips are abloom. So are redbuds, cherries, and dogwoods. Grass is a vivid green after the winter's brown, and trees are a paler, spring green as they start to get their leaves. The thing is, that's been happening the past week, and it's still March.

"It's pretty extraordinary," says Peter Hatch, Monticello's director of gardens and grounds. "It's three weeks ahead of schedule, which is unprecedented on my watch. Things are blooming like Scotch broom, tree peonies... things that normally bloom in April."

This area is big on April celebrations of spring. By the time the Dogwood Festival holds its parade April 28, those dogwood blossoms will be long gone. Historic Garden Week runs April 21-28, but the flora that normally blooms in April aren't waiting.

"[W]ith this crazy weather, we’re wondering whether there will be any flowers left by the end of April!," says Holly Maillet, who's working on Albemarle's April 21-22 Keswick-centered Garden Week tour.

The Organic Tulip Festival in Madison originally was planned for the first and second weeks of April, but the weather has pushed up the first festival date to March 31, says EcoTulips owner Keriann Koeman. "I think we're about three weeks ahead of schedule from last year. Some varieties really need that cold period. They're going to be shorter."

EcoTulips still has 20,000 late tulips in the ground. "I think we'll really see a decline after Easter," predicts Koeman. That holiday is April 8 this year.

In local orchards, fruit trees are blooming, and at Henley's Orchard, the peaches are setting fruit. They were unscathed by the March 26 temperature drop into the 30s, reports Sarah Henley. "The only thing we're worried about is an extended frost," she says. And the warm weather means the peaches will be coming early.

It turns out the winter of 2011-2012 was merely the fifth warmest on record in 118 years of keeping track in Charlottesville, says Jerry Stenger, director of UVA's Climatology Office. March appears on track to be Charlottesville's second warmest, and the state's third warmest.

Monticello's Hatch finds himself unable to enjoy the mild weather.

"I  hate it," he says. "It's a little too warm for this time of year. When it's too warm and the soil is drying out, it bothers the gardener. I prefer cool, misty days."

And what does the warm March portend?

"It might cool off," says Hatch, "or be a long, hot summer."


Stuff has been ahead of schedule since February. By mid February our daffodils were already coming up and by the end of February they were in full bloom. That shouldn't have been happening til mid/end of March, minimum. By the end of February many trees had also begun to bloom. The Peeper Toads were out in full peeper song glory down by the water. The birds were coming back. And it was taking place while surrounded by high 60's/low 70's temp days. In the middle of winter. All of it a full *4-6 weeks early.* Meanwhile the people around me were playing things down and acting like everything is okay, no big deal, "we've had warm springs before" so just go back to sleeeeeeep. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

So then March arrives and more trees keep blooming, the birds are all back in full force, more flowers pop up - a full month early - and the high temp days continue, only now getting up into the 80s. Soon people began taking it for granted, and complaining when they would see weather forecasts saying things may dip down into - gasp! - the 50s. Meanwhile as I'm like, Uh, that's *normal.* That's what the temps *should* be for this time of year. Not the 80s! As much as 75-80 degree temps feel nice, there's a part of me that doesn't want to see that happening in Virginia, in February and March, because it's not right.

Oh yeah, and forgot to mention that the bumblebees were out........by mid March. And the only reason they were out was because the flowers were in full bloom and the temps were warm enough, because bees can't function in cold weather.

Driving back from Florida to Maryland last Saturday, I was amazed at how far north everything was. In Richmond, the Wisteria are already in full bloom, and the dogwoods and azaleas are even blooming here in MD. In South Carolina, roses were starting to bloom. Even places well up north are quite a bit ahead of schedule, with tulips blooming in Toronto and Michigan already having some trees with green leaves. Just hope you buy more SUMMER plants that bloom for awhile to really have a great show of color all season long. Expect the Kousa Dogwoods (the one that blooms after the leaves are full) for that Dogwood Festival, along with early roses and perhaps even a daylily or two.

I wouldn't blame local weather on global warming. Global warming is real, but it's had minimal effect this far south. Most of the real tangible effects are much farther north, particularly in the Arctic.This spring is not unusual and I have seen things bloom earlier. For example I had Daffodils on the 1st. of February in 1990 out in Free Union. This year the Bradford Pears bloomed on Preston Ave. starting around Mar. 10, maybe 5 days ahead of the usual. We get a lot of warm weather in March here and when it follows a warm February things start growing..

" strong evidence links global warming to a rise in heat waves "