MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 6, 2012

Azaleas in trouble

Lack of winter cold stalls blooming

This could be another bad year for Muskogee azaleas, and one culprit could be this winter’s balmy weather.

“We were hit with record low temperatures and snow last winter and lost quite a number of azaleas,” Muskogee Parks Superintendent Rick Ewing said. “Record heat last summer took a bunch this year. We need a chill to have a good bloom.”

And a chill isn’t likely any time soon. The National Weather Service predicts low temperatures in the 50s tonight and Wednesday and the 40s through Sunday night.

A lack of chill could mean the flowers would be less showy on the bushes — if the bushes bloom at all, Ewing said. This could be the second year in a row that azaleas at Honor Heights Park fail to fully bloom for the annual Azalea Festival in April.

“The bushes won’t flower if there is no chill,” he said. “A chill is needed to set the bud.”

Last summer’s heat wave caused the plants to “abort the budding process,” Ewing said.

A record snowfall in February 2011 caused as many as 70 percent of the azaleas to fail to bloom during last year’s festival.

That snowfall and the record-breaking heat last July and August killed nearly one-fifth of the azaleas in Honor Heights Park, Ewing said. “We lost 4,000 flowers,” he said. “We have 20,000.”

Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department crews are pruning dead branches from the azalea bushes. And there are bunches of them.

“They’re dead on the stem,” Ewing said.

The warm winter weather has caused many trees and shrubs to bloom early, not only in Honor Heights, but throughout Muskogee.

“We have tons of dogwood and redbuds blooming,” Ewing said. “And we already have a few hundred flower blooms.”

Warm weather means azalea and other flower buds “are going to start popping early.”

Muskogee area azalea blooms normally peak in mid-April, Ewing said. This year, the peak could hit as early as March, he said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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