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Queens Chronicle

New York’s cold winter delays any early plantings in Queens

Experts hope conditions change soon, but garden work is slowed

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:30 am

Amateur gardeners itching to get radish and lettuce seeds in the ground and flower lovers looking to plant those perky pansies in window boxes will have to wait a little longer.

By all accounts, this winter’s weather is hanging on longer than anyone expected, playing havoc with business at garden centers and holding up everyone else who wants to put a shovel in the ground.

On Saturday, when temperatures rose to the mid-50s, some Queens gardeners were out in their yards pruning bushes, while members of the city’s Green Thumb Community Garden in Flushing got a first chance to see their plots. But there was not much to be done because the earth in places is still frozen and elsewhere muddy.

Usually at this time of year the hardy and colorful pansies are ready for planting, but not this season. Russell Bodenhorn, who worked for Keil Brothers Nursery, which recently merged with Garden World in Auburndale, said that last year at this time the flowers were being sold.

“They are not in stock yet,” Bodenhorn said. “It’s still too cold at night for them.”

The veteran gardener said the business is feeling the weather, as are amateur planters. “Our shipments from the warmer climates, the West Coast and South, have been delayed because we can’t bring them in yet,” Bodenhorn said.

He is hopeful that the weather will improve soon, but does not expect it this week. “The ground is not ready for planting,” Bodenhorn added. “There are still some icebergs and the ground needs a chance to dry out.”

And he said there is no question business has suffered. “Businesswise, you never catch up with what you’ve lost, but you have to go on.”

Anthony Imbriano, who runs a landscaping business out of Howard Beach, expects to start doing yard work next week. “Sometimes he starts earlier and sometimes later, depending on the weather. We’re hoping the weather will be better,” said Melissa Imbriano, who runs the business with her husband.

So do other Queens landscapers, who have held off on advertising in the Queens Chronicle and other papers because of poor gardening conditions.

Chuck Wade, who has the title of care person of the Green Thumb Community Garden in Kissena Corridor Park, said the Flushing facility has more than 250 members, who each year sign up in the fall for a plot of land to cultivate. Most members grow vegetables, with a smattering of flowers.

Since last Saturday was opening day, they were anxious to see their plots. “Many of the members are Korean and like to plant their traditional crops, and we are all waiting to see if this will be a cold spring after such a cold winter,” Wade said.

He added that this is the most prolonged winter he can remember. Wade is a retired horticultural teacher from John Bowne High School and also served as director of the Queens Botanical Garden at one time.

Susan Lacerte, the current executive director of the QBG in Flushing, acknowledged that there are few signs of spring, but is not concerned about getting a late start in planting this year. “It is delayed and we can’t work outside yet,” Lacerte said. “But the cold has its good points; it’s killed a lot of bugs and replenishes the water.”

Most of the planting at the QBG is not expected before April, when the ground is warmer. “Everybody is ready for spring,” the director added.

Leah Retherford, farm manager at the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, agrees with Lacerte about the benefits of the cold winter: It kills insect pests, while the heavy snow increases the water reserves. But she said the weather has its drawbacks.

“We’ll start planting later than usual,” Retherford said. “We also have a lot less and smaller cover crops in the fields that were planted in the fall.”

But the last working farm in Queens starts its plants indoors, growing its own seedlings. So early crops such as parsley and lettuce will be transplanted as soon as the earth warms up.

In addition, the farm utilizes cold frames for its transplanted lettuce and spinach, which protect the greens from harsh temperatures.

Retherford is using the extra time between seasons to oil tools, clean up the ground and prune. “I’m not concerned about the cold weather,” she added. “It gives us time to rest and it’s a good chance to plan the garden.”

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