Warm winter has sting in tail for plants

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2014

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A warmer-than-average winter that has extended kids' playground season and prompted some daffodils to an early bloom could also portend a bug and disease-ridden spring.

Just three months ago New Plymouth District Council was struggling to deal with a dry spell that nearly killed all sports field grass and pointed toward a winter of puddled and muddy playing grounds.

But unseasonally warm temperatures so far have spurred grass growth and ensured playing surfaces will finish the season in good condition. Now council parks boss Mark Bruhn has another concern.

"What I am worried about now is some of our plantings and the diseases which may come because we haven't had a cold winter. We need a couple of frosts to kill off all the bugs. That is not just for the playing fields, but all our plantings. There are always different challenges dealing with a living environment," he said.

Adrian McLeod of New Plymouth's Fairfields Garden Centre said bugs such as thrips, red spider mites, aphids and whitefly thrived in the warmer summer temperatures.

"If the autumn and winter is mild, a lot of these bugs aren't killed off," he said.

McLeod recommended a mineral oil spraying programme for fruit trees, roses and other deciduous plants to control a potential spring explosion of bugs and a copper spray to control the fungal diseases that would normally be kicked for touch by a few good frosts. Those killer frosts may yet come but Niwa forecasts have the odds in favour of them staying away.

Forecaster Chris Brandolino said a lack of southerly winds and warmer than normal sea temperatures were significant contributors to the mild temperatures so far.

He said there was a 50 per cent chance the next three months would be warmer than usual, 40 per cent there would be average temperatures and only 10 per cent chance of a colder than usual winter.

"That is pretty significant when you are giving 50 per cent chance of above average temperatures," he said.

Inglewood dairy farmer Paul Davidson said the mild winter months had helped pasture recover from the dry summer and growth had been strong through to now.

"It's been great. It has been growing the whole time. It's only in the last couple of weeks that its got wetter.

"But there is definitely more cold and wet weather to come," he said.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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