April snow affects spring vegetation across Nebraska

Daffodils near 30th and U Streets in Lincoln, Neb., were damaged by the freezing weather Monday morning. Although the flowers are drooping now, experts said that they will be able to recover quickly if warm weather returns.

Story and photos by Miranda Milovich, NewsNetNebraska

Drooping daffodils, mangled Magnolia blossoms and a thin blanket of snow. That’s what residents of Lincoln, Neb., woke up to Monday morning after a spring storm made its way through the Midwest.

Randy Wolf, who works at Campbell’s Nursery in Lincoln, said that winter weather in April isn’t all that strange.

“I’ve been here for pretty close to 40 years now and there have been lots of other springs like this,” Wolf said. “It’s not uncommon in Nebraska.”

However, he said that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for Campbell’s to protect their plants from the cold. Wolf said looking at Thursday’s forecast—freezing temperatures and a chance of snow—worries him.

April in Nebraska: a good chance of snow

Ken Dewey, a climatology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln agreed that the April snow was normal. His records show that in the last 115 years, 47 percent of the Aprils have had a measurable snowfall.

He also said that Lincoln, like most of the United States, is experiencing warmer than normal temperatures this spring. Temperatures reached 85 degrees in Lincoln on Saturday, one degree below the record high, according to Dewey.

“We are on the 50-yard line of the football field of weather and there is always going to be a contrast here with cold air to our north and warm air to our south battling it out for supremacy,” Dewey said in an email and later on his blog, SNR Climate Corner. “If you lived in Florida it will always be warm.  If you live up in Canada it will always be cold.  We are in the middle.”

The cold weather in Lincoln, Neb., may stop gardeners from planting this week, but experts said that they are confident spring will be here to stay soon.

The cold weather in Lincoln, Neb., may stop gardeners from planting this week, but experts said that they are confident spring will be here to stay soon.

Potential plant damage

Even though experts seem to agree that Nebraska isn’t immune to a mid-April snow, some were more affected by the low temperatures than others. Spring flowers and blossoming trees, for example, didn’t seem to fare so well.

Wolf said that Campbell’s Nursery takes extra precaution when low temperatures happen, but usually it takes a hard freeze to do a lot of damage.

“Looking at the forecast now, I see later in the week we’ve got a 32 and a 33,” Wolf said. “That doesn’t concern me, but 25 degrees does. A few degrees can make a big difference.”

According to Wolf, the flowers on the ground will be fine after the late Sunday and early Monday storm because the snow actually acts as an insulator from the cold air.

He added that the blossoms on trees looked ruined Monday morning not directly because of the cold air, but because the sun heated up the blossoms too quickly, causing damage to the delicate cells of the blossom and the brown or black discoloration.

Terri James, the extension assistant of UNL’s Master Gardener Program, said that while blossoming trees may be fine for now, if the cold weather stays, lasting damage could be done.

“A lot of times we run the risk of a late freeze interrupting our flowering ornamental and fruit trees and shrubs,” James said. “If there is a hard frost and the flower buds are damaged it could result in less fruit production or flowers.”

Damaged blossoms on a Magnolia tree on campus at UNL are the result of the sun heating up the cells of the delicate petals too quickly after cold temperatures. According to experts, blossoming trees will be able to bounce back from Monday’s cold snap, but a hard freeze could mean less flowers and fruit on trees later in the year.

As far as gardeners are concerned, James said the soil in southeast Nebraska is still too cold to start planting most vegetables. Although, there are some cool season vegetables like radish, Swiss chard, leeks, spinach and peas that can be planted now.

According to James, if other seeds are planted too soon, the cold will prevent them from germinating and they can rot in the soil. Gardeners should hold off on planting until there is less of a risk of frost.

“The spring frost date for eastern Neb., is May 10,” James said. “This is a general date for the last day a frost will occur in the area.”

Wolf said that the team at Campbell’s Nursery will keep checking the forecast so they can cover plants or shelter them if necessary. But for now, he said all they can do is hope that the cold won’t damage business too much.

“Cold snaps send people indoors,” Wolf said. “They are scared to plant or not in the mood to plant anymore, and that does damage business. When that happens you hope that you can make up the difference as the season goes on, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”

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