Hold off planting spring flowers, ETSU arborist advises

Published 10:11 am Friday, March 3, 2023

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Seriously, don’t plant those spring flowers yet.
That’s the advice from East Tennessee State University’s Travis Watson, the school’s campus arborist.
For gardeners across the South, the temptation is there. Temperatures have soared above normal, toppling records that in some instances stretch back more than a century.
Feb. 9 registered 72 at the Tri-Cities Airport, the nearest National Weather Service climate site, setting a new single-day temperature record. Chattanooga hit 82 on Feb. 23, a new all-time monthly record with data going back to 1879. The March 1 high in Johnson City was 76, narrowly missing the record of 81 set in 1997.
As for when to plant those lovely spring flowers, Watson recommends sticking with old-school gardening advice: wait until after Mother’s Day.
A late-winter freeze has the potential to damage a range of non-native plants that sometimes flower early if given the chance.
There is some good news, Watson said. Much of the flora that call the Appalachian Highlands home are used to back-and-forth weather.
“Most of our native trees and shrubs are well-adapted to our cycles of warm weather followed by cold and wouldn’t be expected to have any significant damage from the inevitable subfreezing temps we will experience before spring actually arrives,” he said.
ETSU experts had predicted above-normal temperatures for the winter season, and the university houses the state’s official climatologist.
“Garden centers are filling up with lots of pretty flowers, but unless you have a means to protect them from freezing temps, you should wait until the first week of May to set them out in their beds,” said Watson. “If you really want something now and for the next two months, pansies and violas are cold-adapted and are great early spring flowers. There are also many perennial flowers that are more tolerant of cold weather that can be planted early.”

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