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Spring fever spikes in Asheville

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3/14/2012 - Spring fever spikes in Asheville
by Sabian Warren - Asheville Citizen Times

 ASHEVILLE -- Weather more typical of Memorial Day than mid March has nurseryman Eric Buckner busily gearing up for the growing season.

 It also has him crossing his fingers.

"We're in full mode right now," said Buckner, owner of Green Outdoors Landscaping & Nursery in North Asheville. "The warm weather definitely gets people out and about, and we've gotten started a little earlier than usual. Hopefully, that won't come back to bite us."

Temperatures are expected to be nearly 20 degrees warmer than normal today and for the rest of the week, nudging nursery plants to begin budding early. That widens the window of opportunity of damage from a late freeze.

"It could be a bumper crop for everything, or it could be devastating," Buckner said.

Even after an exceptionally warm winter -- Asheville marked the sixth warmest winter since record-keeping began in 1850 -- this week's warm spell is remarkable given that average highs and lows for this time of year are 58 and 35.

"That's significant," National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Bruce said of the departure from normal temperatures. "But it's been a very mild winter."

A consistent current of air flowing from the Southwest accounts for the balmy weather, he said, and that pattern will stick around for a while.

"It's going to stay above average through early next week, at least," Bruce said.

Highs in the upper 70s are more typical of temperatures in late May, according to Weather Service records for Asheville.

Highs this week likely won't break any records, which are generally in the low to mid 80s this time of year, but they won't be too far off. The record high for this date was 82 in 1973.

Long-range forecast models call for above average temperatures through the summer months, Bruce said.

Asheville can still have freezes through early May, but with such a long-range outlook, the chances could be diminished this year. At least that's what Buckner hopes .

"Everyone's always said that Mother's Day is the safe date, but you can usually hedge on that two or three weeks," he said.

Some plants are more vulnerable than others to late freezes, and growers should take note, he said. Grafted plants, including Japanese maples, along with small flowering plants can be killed by a hard freeze, Buckner said.

"I've got people calling and asking about annual flowers," he said. "But I wouldn't advise anyone to put in any of the small flowering plants. People have to remember this is March."

Other plants, including evergreen shrubs, are cold-hardy and can be planted now, he said.

A boost for road projects

Area motorists who notice fewer potholes and better maintenance along roadway shoulders can thank the warm winter. N.C. Department of Transportation crews have been able to continue a number of maintenance projects that are normally put on hold during the coldest weather.

"With the lack of weather this year, we've been able to continue a lot more of our routine maintenance," said Chad Bandy, DOT district engineer.

Such work includes repairing potholes, long-arm mowing of brush along roadway shoulders, and cleaning of ditches and pipes, he said, projects that ground to a halt during the previous two harsh winters.

"It's been a welcome break," Bandy said.

No large-scale asphalt paving projects were undertaken over the winter, however, because area asphalt plants shut down for the winter, he said.

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