April rain, later gain

Spring: A wet month has made would-be gardeners restless, but it has also reduced the risk of drought this summer.

April 30, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The wettest April in the Baltimore area in 17 years has diminished the threat of drought in Maryland and inspired area gardeners to hope that the abundant showers will bring May flowers.

At the entrance to Metzler's Nursery & Garden Center in Columbia, pink geraniums line up beside pink azaleas waiting to be planted. Trays of tomatoes stand ready for a warm, sunny day.

"April is not going to be great, but hopefully it will be a great May," said owner Dotty Metzler.

While sales have been slow, gardeners have been dropping by for advice on selecting plants, said Tom Smith, senior salesman at the center.

"People have been coming in with their note pads," he said. "As soon as we get more than one day of sunshine, we're going to be busy."

As of Friday, the National Weather Service had recorded slightly more than 5 inches of rain this month at Baltimore-Washington International Airport -- almost 2 inches above normal and the most since 1983.

April's showers have gone a long way toward reducing the threat of drought in the state, said Dewey Walston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "This is really going to help us out this summer," he said.

Except for Howard and Harford counties, water tables in the area are normal, and in some places well levels are 3 to 5 feet higher than they were last year at this time, he said. In Howard and Harford, a bit more rain could close the gap. "It wouldn't take much," he said.

The forecast for the next several days calls for a chance of showers, although the long-range forecast for May, June and July is for hotter and drier conditions than normal, Walston said.

"The trick is how much we have going into summer," he said.

Last year's drought followed a dry fall and winter, he noted. This year, Maryland will enter summer after a wet fall and normal winter, and above-average rainfall this spring. This year, more than 15 inches of rain have fallen in Baltimore -- 2.42 inches above normal.

Smith said the rain is bringing confidence to gardeners who lost trees and flowers during last summer's drought, and customers have started to buy replacements for the plants they lost.

Carol Drenge, outdoor manager of River Hill Garden Center, calls the recent cool, damp spell "perfect gardening weather. The soil is nice and moist."

April was seasonable

Unusually warm days last month rushed some flowering trees into bloom, and cold, windy nights that followed nipped those premature buds. This month has turned out to be more seasonable, prolonging the white and pink blossoms on the dogwood trees, Metzler said. "It really has put the spring where it is supposed to be," she said.

Barb MacKie of Allview Estates in Columbia said the weather has benefited grass seed her husband planted and helped plants absorb the fertilizers she has applied, but she said she has struggled to keep up with lawn mowing and other gardening chores between the showers.

"I'm incredibly behind," she said, pausing over trays of geraniums at Metzler's.

Garden experts say Baltimore-area residents can't be sure their plants are safe from frost until mid-May.

Container gardening

Brenda Rardin of Hobbit's Glen said she occupies her green thumb by planting flowers in containers, which she can move inside if the nights get too cold.

"I do what I can," said Rardin, as she shopped for flowers at River Hill Garden Center.

Maria Boyland of River Hill got impatient for spring and planted New Guinea impatiens in a container several weeks ago. The plants died of cold.

"The damp weather bothers me," she said, selecting another flower at Metzler's. "I'm ready for all the blossoms and blooms."

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