Leaves from an oak and berries from a mountain ash still on the trees are signs of mild weather conditions sending confusing signals to Central Okanagan plants and shrubs this winter. (Jade Gerding photo)

Mild Okanagan winter confusing vegetation

Some plants and shrubs may not survive the spring

An unusually warm winter may be welcomed by Central Okanagan residents, but it is causing havoc for trees and shrubs.

Despite it being mid-January, some trees still have leaves and berries on them where none would normally exist, while some plants may not survive through spring.

Sigrie Kendrick, executive director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association and a Black Press gardening columnist, said local vegetation isn’t sure how to react because of climate norms changing.

“It is climate change and it is extremely concerning for some plants,” said Kendrick. “Especially those which may be a stretch for growing in our zone conditions to begin with, they aren’t going to make it.

“Others will experience stunted growth if the warm trend continues this winter and then it goes cold again in the spring like it did about five years ago.”

She said basically the plants and trees haven’t produced the chemicals that tell them to go to sleep, to be dormant until the spring.

“Things are going a little haywire…people say they don’t see the hotter temperatures or see global warming as existing, but it is about global change actually and the impact that is having on the climate,” she said.

She said with forewarning, gardeners can place mulch around the base of plants or small trees to help protect the roots.

“But some of those plants at the highest hardiness levels for our zone may end up falling by the wayside,” she said.

On the plus side, the warmer winters and hotter summers have opened up opportunities to grow cherry orchards at higher elevations, creating predictions that fruit growing may become more acclimated further into the northern Okanagan and Shuswap regions.

Otherwise, Kendrick acknowledges the fall yard cleanup of falling leaves interrupted by the arrival of early snow this fall will likely return in the spring, as leaves currently on trees will give way to new growth.

“But that will also create opportunities for composting which can help the soil and provides an alternative to sending those bags of leaves to the landfill,” she added.

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