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Storm puts dreams of spring gardens on hold

Storm puts dreams of spring gardens on hold

'I don't think it's going to be a major hindrance to anybody'
Storm puts dreams of spring gardens on hold
Colin Thorne stocks organic seeds at Hewitt's Garden Center in Glenville on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Green grass and colorful flowers might seem weeks away now, but spring is literally just around the corner: It begins March 20.

During a freak stretch of warm weather in late February and early March, thoughts of gardening were no doubt awakened in a lot of people’s minds. Tuesday’s storm may have quashed the hopes for a fast-arriving spring, or it may have made those hopes even stronger, but it didn’t sidetrack garden stores and nurseries that are busy getting ready for the new season.

The timing might seem ironic, but Gade Farm in Guilderland is opening for the season on Friday. All the snow will likely just whet the public’s appetite for the event, said manager Amy Castillo.

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Gade has been closed since Christmas, but it hasn’t been idle. The winter crew planted thousands of seeds in January and transplanted the seedlings into pots in February. The young plants are now growing in the greenhouse, which hits 90 degrees on a sunny day and smells like a lush garden in the spring.

“We’re busy,” Castillo said. “People are like, ‘What did you do all winter; did you go to Florida?’”

All the snow is not a problem. Bitter cold is more of a risk, as the delicate young growth is sensitive to freezing.

Gade Farm is keeping everything in one of its smaller greenhouses for now, trying to avoid having to heat the larger greenhouse. When the plants get too large to fit, the move will begin.

The staff recommends people get ready for the season now, but they should stop short of buying plants, as there’s a good chance they’ll die outside the greenhouse environment. For those eager to start, Gade is offering its first classes of the season on Saturday: planning the garden and creating hanging baskets. 

In the meantime, visitors are welcome to take that whiff of spring.

“People just want to come and walk through the greenhouse and smell it. It smells like spring,” Castillo said.

Jason Schultz, a landscape designer at Faddegon’s, in Latham, said snowfall is normal this time of year and a good thing -- it puts moisture in the ground as the growing season starts, something that was lacking last year.

“I view this as a bonus,” he said. “But some people are bummed. They’re ready for spring because this has been a warm winter. We have had people come in, and they're eager.”

The advice Faddegon’s gives -- even when no snowstorm is in sight -- is to not get ahead of the season. When customers ask for grass seed in February, they get a quick lesson on how grass grows.

“You won't germinate grass seed at this temperature,” he said. “In essence, you're putting down birdseed.”

Bulbs are among the plantings most likely to be affected by the thaw-freeze-snow cycle the area has experienced over the past month. They’ll survive heavy snow, but they may look a little worse for wear when it all melts.

Some of the fruit trees for sale at Faddegon’s have already gone to bud, particularly peaches and pears. This isn’t ideal, but it won’t affect the trees’ long-term health. It will cut their yield of fruit this year, but the first year’s crop isn’t very big anyway.

“I don't think it's going to be a major hindrance to anybody,” Schultz said of the snowstorm.

Karen Kulak, of Kulak’s Nursery and Landscaping in Rexford, said the snow won’t be a problem for her unless it takes too long to melt. Kulak’s doesn’t start its spring inventory from seed, so it doesn’t need warm temperatures or abundant sunlight. But when it takes delivery of plants from commercial greenhouses, there can’t be tons of snow chewing up space on the lot. She expects it will work out fine, even with the heavier-than-average snow so late in the season.

“I wasn’t getting it in until April, anyway,” Kulak said. “We wait because we don't want the buds freezing on them. A lot of these things come from warmer climates.”

Local yard and garden chain Hewitt’s doesn’t shut down down in the dead of winter, but it shrinks its staff and takes Tuesdays off.

Spokesman Peter Bowden said customers have been coming in steadily in recent weeks for seed-starting supplies, but the stretch of warm weather got some of them thinking ahead to green lawns and flowerbeds. Those thoughts are likely on hold now.

“It stunts the mood; it just stalls the mood where it is,” he said.

“This has happened before. It’s not something totally unexpected, but it’s a little disappointing,” Bowden said. “March is never a huge month for us, unless it’s abnormally warm.” 

And the payback for a beautiful March often seems to be a rough April.

“I’d rather have April be nicer than normal than March be nicer than normal," he said.

Bowden said yards and gardens should tolerate this storm well. A bigger threat than heavy snow is a prolonged warm spell that prompts spring blooms and is followed by a sustained freeze, which seems not to have quite happened so far this winter.

He expects garden stores will do good business when the deep snow that's clogging streets and yards is gone.

“It does create a spring fever when it finally does break,” he said.

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