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    Sacramento-area nurseries hope for an early spring to bring out the blossoms and beauty of such plants as forsythia.

  • Florence Low / Bee file


  • Owen Brewer / Bee file, 2004


Seeds: Careful with your Groundhog Day reactions

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 8:30 am

Seen your shadow lately? Our inner Punxsutawney Phil yearns for an early spring and, by tradition, a cloudy day today.

It's Groundhog Day and, if a certain critter in Pennsylvania sees its shadow, we're in for six more weeks of winter.

Gardeners tend to fall into the counterintuitive trap of Groundhog Day psychology. We see sun, we think spring. Or it could be early daffodils (as seen in Davis) or a flush of blooming ume plum (spotted at Land Park's Fairytale Town) that set our seasonal senses on high alert.

But like the weatherman Phil, played by Bill Murray in the comedy "Groundhog Day" (celebrating its 20th anniversary), we tend to get stuck in a loop of repeated mistakes. Or we could actually learn something from this seasonal change.

Plants in my Sacramento garden are definitely sending mixed signals. Several paperwhites and narcissus jumped the gun in mid-January, tricked by a warm December. But January's frosty nights kept new growth from sprouting on any shrubs.

Spring is like Christmas to nurseries; it brings out customers.

"We need an early spring!" said Jennifer Miner of Flower Hut Nursery in Wheatland. "Our whole industry needs a good and profitable spring. … Keep your fingers crossed!"

To woo customers into thoughts of spring, Flower Hut will host its annual citrus tasting next weekend, Feb. 9-10, featuring more than 50 varieties of citrus. Find out more at

Miner looks forward to good planting weather soon. She cites gardeners' go-to source for weather forecasts.

"The Farmers' Almanac says we will have a drier- than-normal February and March," she said. "Selfishly, I hope this is true."

Sunny days aren't enough to trigger spring changes. The ground has to warm, too. Because every garden has its own microclimates, it can be spring in the backyard while the front yard lags in winter.

"Some yards – especially those with south- and west-facing walls and other reflective surfaces – may warm up quicker in late winter/early spring than other yards," said radio host "Farmer Fred" Hoffman, who closely watches seasonal changes. "The key, though, is to monitor the soil temperatures, not the air temperatures."

People may be fooled by sunny weather, but plants trust their roots.

"There will be an unusually nice weekend in February," Hoffman predicted. "There always is that anomaly, when it's more sunny and warmer than usual. Don't let that 70-degree day fool you. It is still too early to plant heat-loving vegetables and flowers, because the soil temperatures are too cool."

Hoffman, who admits he's a "garden weather geek," keeps careful track of soil temperature.

"The soil temperatures right now do not foretell an early spring in our area," he said.

Late-January soil temperatures lingered around 46 degrees, two degrees below normal. February averages 50 degrees.

"The magic happens when soil temperatures rise into the mid-50s," Hoffman said. "And most of our favorite warm-weather vegetables – tomatoes, pepper, squash – perform best when soil temperatures are in the 60s and 70s (in May or later)."

Hoffman hasn't seen any spring yet in his garden in Herald.

"In our yard, there are none of the telltale signs of impending warmer conditions," Hoffman said. "The daphne has yet to open its blooms; there are no buds opening on the quince or forsythia. I have yet to see an acacia tree in its resplendent yellow blooms.

"Based on that, this groundhog says: Go back to planning your garden, not planting."

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Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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