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'4th of July' March Weather: Enjoyable, Yet Concerning

The growing season is about three to five weeks ahead of schedule; share your photos of early blooms.

Yesterday’s high temperature of 85 degrees combined with the low of 63 is the kind of weather that is normal for the Fourth of July, said Ed Fenelon, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, Chicago office.

Fenelon said the week of unseasonably warm days is unprecedented.

“We set or tied new record high temperatures for seven days in a row, starting with Wednesday, last week,” he said.

When temperatures hit 81 on March 14, it was the earliest occurrence of 80-degree temperatures in the 135 years since area weather history has been recorded, Fenelon said.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Tim Johnson, director of horticulture, said plants are four to five weeks ahead of last year. Blooms that are usually spread out over the spring season — like forsythia, redbuds, magnolias and even lilacs — are starting to occur simultaneously, in a sense condensing the spring bloom season.

“It’s a very exceptional spring season. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen plants acting like this,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said the carpenter bees already have become active, and they usually don’t show up until mid-May.

Freeze Would Harm Fruit Harvest

The weather outlook for the next two weeks is for continued mild weather. However, according to weather statistics there is still a 70 percent chance of freezing temperatures after April 12, Fenelon said.

“We're keeping a close eye on this, because there is a big concern with the trees leafed out and flowers up. Fruit trees and all sorts of things are starting to grow and are at risk of freezing, so we want to give as much advance notice as possible,” Fenelon said.

At McCann’s Berry Farm in Woodstock, the blueberry bushes are budding already, said Brenda Dahlfors, master gardener program coordinator at the University Illinois Extension, Lake and McHenry counties. 

Dahlfors said local farmers are estimating that the growing season is about three weeks ahead of schedule. 

“It’s kind of amazing. It’s fine; it’s not going to hurt anything as long as we don’t get a freeze. If we get a freeze that would be economic disaster; you’re not going to get blueberries; you’re not going to get grapes," Dahlfors said.

Gardening Cleanup, Pruning Starts Early

Johnson said the early season is creating some havoc at the Botanic Garden.

“We have a lot of work that needs to be done and it’s compressing the time frames for doing it,” he said. For instance, certain plants need to be pruned when they are dormant and they are coming out of dormancy too quickly.

Johnson said Botanic Garden staff members are reporting that the grounds are dry and will need watering soon.

“It’s very unusual to think of watering in March,” he said.

Johnson recommends that home gardeners mulch around their plants to protect from a potential freeze and cover any special plants with a blanket in the event of freezing weather. “If there’s a freeze, there’s not much more you can do other than cross your fingers,” he said.

Home gardeners should get an early start on pruning and cutting back perennials, but should be careful not to damage new growth, Johnson said.

“When cutting back ornamental grasses, cut higher than normal,” he said. 

Dahlfors said home gardeners can get an early start with cleaning up their garden beds and even planting early season crops, like lettuce. “Hey, just get out and enjoy it,” she said.

Is the Heat Due to Global Warming?

The historically warm weather is not directly related to global warming, Fenelon said.

“You wouldn’t associate one week in March as global warming. Global warming is a bigger trend; it’s bigger in scale, but it’s certainly happening,” Fenelon said.

However, some studies do show a greater frequency of extreme weather events associated with global warming, he said.

Does the warm March mean a hot summer? Fenelon said, statistically, a warm March has no relation to whether summer will be warmer than normal or cooler. However, there is a slightly better chance that summer will be warmer if followed by a warm winter.

Have you captured photos of the early blooms? Share them with Patch.

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