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Winter snow brings spring flowers

| Saturday, April 26, 2003

The wealth of rich pastel colors flourishing in blooming trees this spring are a testament to benefits the earth has absorbed from a consistently cold and snowy winter.

"Watching the blooming of the ornamental and fruiting crops makes me think everything is ahead of schedule. The cold, wet spring we had last year, that included late-season frosts, reduced the blooms," said Eric Oesterling, an agent with the Penn State Cooperative Extension of Westmoreland County.

The persistent cold temperatures and snow that most everyone complained about this winter is responsible for much of the beauty the area is enjoying this season, Oesterling said.

"The rain and snow over the last half of last year have helped to offset the drought in the months before. It's where it should be," Oesterling said.

An example of one crop that benefited from the ample winter moisture is alfalfa, Oesterling said.

"The snow protects the perennials and helps maintain the moisture in the soil," he said.

Area farmers have begun the planting process by preparing the soil for seed, while waiting for the last threat of frost to pass. Some farmers have planted some seeds already, noting a friend recently planted his corn for the season, Oesterling said.

"The spring work is on schedule," he said.

Those who live for the moment can decorate their homes and gardens with blooming pots and bedding flowers, but Oesterling recommends waiting a few more weeks.

"Frost typically can occur through May, so it's best to wait until mid-May for the geraniums and impatiens," he said.

The colder temperatures and abundance of moisture this winter may affect the growing season's pest population, Oesterling said. "There are predictions, but I'm not making any. It will be interesting to see if it the population increases or decreases. It can go either way."

The brisk weather may have discouraged the proliferation of one of the farmer's enemies: the corn flea beetle.

"Entomologists are working out a way of determining if the pests are affected when the temperature drops below a certain degree," Oesterling said.

Corn flea beetles, which are small, dark, jumping beetles that feed on plant leaves throughout the growing season, are responsible for causing Stewart's bacterial wilt on both sweet corn and field corn, he said.

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