Early Spring Conditions - Keep an Eye on Your Trees

March 24, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Scouting Trip in Jefferson CountyScouting Trip in Jefferson County As a nature and landscape photographer, I spend a lot of my time learning about flowers, plants, and trees.  Beyond my commitment to learning, I am involved in my community as a Missouri Master Naturalist.  I encourage all photographers, independent of genre, to be deeply connected to your passion and only master the technical details of photography to the degree that you can freely create your photographs without having to think about the underpinnings.  

I received an alert from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), so I wanted to pass along some important key points for my readers concerning the early spring warm-up and potential for damage to our plants and trees in Missouri. 

MDC reports the pace of spring warm-up has been running roughly two weeks ahead of average during early March, raising concerns about potential frost damage to plants. The two week estimate is based on observations of plant phenology (timing of budbreak and blooming) in Columbia. Crabapples are getting close to blooming in central Missouri, and dogwood flower bracts are starting to open. Looking at growing degree days (heat accumulation) gives a similar picture. Degree day accumulation started off this year very similar to 2012, which had the warmest March on record. That puts us even ahead of 2007, when a severe freeze event during the first week of April caused plant damage across much of Missouri.

The cool weather that occurred during March 18-20 and below average temperatures projected for the end of March and start of April may help to slow plant development back toward average. But we have a long way to go before we get past the risk of frost damage. The median last frost date in much of Missouri occurs during the second or third week of April, and frost can even occur in May.

Most healthy trees will put out a second flush of leaves after severe frost damage. Remember that this type of damage increases tree stress and can lead to other problems. Be sure to use good tree care practices on stressed trees, such as watering 2-3 times per month during extended dry periods.

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