By Roger McKinney
Nearly every year, the Tri-State Iris Society holds its annual iris show on Mother’s Day weekend at Northpark Mall.
The event has been canceled this year. While the blooming of the irises typically coincides with Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, this year the flowers bloomed several weeks too early.
“No one has any flowers left,” said Nicky Mealey, society president. “I had iris blooming in March. It’s really, really strange.”
Longtime member Barbara Knell said she doesn’t remember the iris show ever being canceled because of early blooming, though it sometimes has been canceled because of a cold snap or a bad storm that destroyed blooms.
The iris show is one example of how the warm, frost-free spring has changed the game for plant lovers, farmers, berry pickers and others, and not just in the Four-State Area.
In Washington, D.C., an early bloom for cherry blossoms nearly came too soon for the popular Cherry Blossom Festival. The average peak bloom date is April 4, according to the National Park Service, but this year, with the warm weather, the peak came in late March, more than a week early.
The annual Tulip Time festival in Michigan is looking as if it might be more of a “stem fest” this year after unseasonably warm weather encouraged the flowers to bloom earlier than usual.
In Texas and Oklahoma, the wheat harvest already has started, and the warm winter and spring has pushed up the cutting time in Kansas. Typically, the wheat is ready for cutting in mid to late June, but this year combines could roll in Kansas even before Memorial Day — two to three weeks early.
In Joplin, mid-April is usually the typical time for the last hard freeze, but this year, according to the National Weather Service station in Springfield, that happened March 9-10.
Brown’s Berry Farm in Miller is doing brisk business earlier than usual, said David Brown, who owns the farm with his wife, Sandra. The farm offers pick-your-own and pre-picked berries.
“We’re probably almost a month early” with the strawberry harvest, David Brown said. “This year, we started picking a day or two after Easter.”
He said that in the past, strawberry plants have produced around 1 1/4 pounds of berries, but plants this year are yielding up to 2 pounds of berries per plant.
“It’s bountiful,” he said.
Brenda Reid, with Brenda’s Berries, a pick-your-own location east of Chetopa, Kan., said the strawberry harvest began April 24, though she had picked a few on April 18.
“These early ripening things just exploded out of the ground in the spring,” said Reid, who has a doctorate in horticulture.
She said she expects red, black and purple raspberries and blackberries to ripen early, too.
She recently posted this note on her blog: “Since we never had a spring frost this year, no blossoms were killed, so we have a huge strawberry crop this year. The berries are large and great-tasting. Raspberries and blackberries are blooming now and will have a huge crop this year also.”
Reid also grows peaches, pears and apples. She said the harvest dates of those fruits probably wouldn’t be affected by the warm spring weather.
Blueberry pickers also may want to move up the date on their calendar.
“Right now, they look like they will be a couple of weeks early,” said Mark Graves, owner of G’s Berry Farm and G’s Orchard near Verona.
Robert Carter, owner of Carter’s Blueberry Farm in Neosho, said the operation could be opening around the first of June, instead of the middle of the month. The normal season lasts three to four weeks, which means the berries are not only coming on early, but they also could be gone sooner.
Ed Browning, a master gardener in Carthage, said he has seen results of the warm, freeze-free spring.
“Everything is quite a bit earlier than we typically see,” he said.
Tree peonies, which usually bloom the first of May, flowered about a month ago, and his regular peonies also bloomed a little early
“My garden vegetables germinated some,” Browning said. “My green beans grew to 4 inches and kind of stalled out until this recent rain. Same thing with tomatoes.”
Browning warned that a late frost is still possible, which would result in gardeners having to start over.
“We could still have a frost,” he said. “The latest frost on record (for Southwest Missouri) is May 19, in 1984. It could still happen.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
On the Net
DETAILS such as hours, rules and location of berry operations can be found by going to the following locations.
BROWN’S BERRY FARM is on Facebook by searching for Brown’s Berry Farm, LLC.
BRENDA’S BERRIES is on Facebook, and Brenda Reid’s blog can be found online at brendasberries.blogspot.com.
G’S BERRY FARM is at localharvest.org or at pickyourown.org.
CARTER’S BLUEBERRY FARM is at www.carterblueberryfarm.com.