Weather confuses plants

IT'S winter but doesn't feel like it — and the plants in our gardens seem confused about what they should be doing next.

It's the time of year when growth usually slows or stops as plants adjust to cooler air and lower soil temperatures.

But that didn't happen this year.

At least not yet, and it's predicted we'll experience a warmer-than-average winter and a drier-than-average spring.

That's significant for gardeners and plants in a world of changing climate.

Data and analysis in the State of the Climate 2014 report from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO showed a further warming of the atmosphere and oceans in the Australian region, with air and ocean temperatures, on average, now almost a degree warmer than they were in 1910.

This means we will experience more hot days and fewer cool days, more extreme fire weather days, less rainfall and more droughts.

At Emu Plains, jonquils — bulbous plants that usually flower in spring — are in bloom in the garden of Penrith City Garden Club president Eileen Ross, while a couple of passionfruit vines that she says "never really ripened properly", have so far this year produced two "tasty" crops.

And at Bruce Higgs's Orchard Hills grower nursery, roses are still in bloom — which he says is a "bit unusual".

In terms of flowering and leaf production, "things are growing later for us", Mr Higgs says.

The warm autumn appears to have had an effect on both leaf colour and drop, particularly among the maples.

"Pigment in the leaves responds to cold, and [the maple leaves] have not been as red this year.

"And we've not had those [leaves] drop."

Some of the more unusual tropical fruit species, including finger limes, have also "powered on" this season.

He has noticed plants had behaved differently this year.

"We normally get a very wet February and March but it didn't quite get as wet, and the past few months have been particularly dry," Mr Higgs said.

"It has also been a bit warmer and we have had great growth in the first six months of this year, more than normal.

"In particular for home gardeners, the ground has been drying out.

"That's important because it can affect the spring planting.

"Home gardeners will need to consider mulches for their gardens for the spring and additional watering in the spring."

Higgs says that while gardeners should be prepared for colder weather, the warmer ground temperature may protect against the effects of frost on sensitive plants.

As plants produce excess growth, young bud tips may be susceptible to frost damage.

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