'Trail' experts remember previous bloom schedule misses

Published on Sunday, 30 March 2014 23:02 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL arussell@tylerpaper.com

The lack of azalea blooms this year has trail planners reminiscing about past events when Mother Nature didn’t cooperate with event schedules.

It’s been a long, cold winter and azalea blooms are few and far between as annual springtime tours around the Azalea District continue.

The 55th Azalea & Spring Flower Trail officially kicked off March 21 and continues through Sunday. But most azalea blooms have yet to show.

Extended cool temperatures and a lack of sunshine have caused late blooms last year and again this year, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturalist Keith Hansen.

Hansen believes the sub-freezing temperatures and ice may have scarred foliage but that blooms appeared to be tight and therefore safe. But it will still take sun and warm temperatures to convince them to open up.

“I’ve been amazed that most of the time they’ve been right on, but it can be hit or miss,” he said.

Sometimes springtime petals peak in unison.

“One year, the daffodils, dogwoods and azaleas bloomed at the same time,” Genecov Group President Felicity Reedy said. “It’s the most dazzling display ever when that happens.”

Unfortunately planners are subject to Mother Nature, Ms. Reedy said.

Paul Bendel, the conventions and visitors bureau manager 1982 to 89, said there always was talk each year about a contingency plan. He said freezing or warm temperatures could throw planned schedules off by weeks and in some cases spoil the seasonal event.

Bendel recalled passing out visitor information pamphlets on the downtown square amid a sleet storm and below freezing temperatures in the late 80s. In 1983, temperatures stayed around or below freezing from December until March and decimated buds.

“There wasn’t any color anywhere that year it seemed like,” he said. “All along the trail between Broadway (Avenue) and College (Street) the plants just looked awful.”

But people came anyway, he added.

The Azalea Trail is resilient in that way, he said. Crowds come and enjoy Tyler and the trail whether blooms and weather cooperate, he said.

In the trail’s early days, Bendel said planners scheduled the two-week event as late as February according to local plant nursery owner’s bloom predictions.

Ms. Reedy said planners have come up with creative and clever ways to circumvent the lack of azalea blooms throughout the decades.

Local growers brought blooming potted azaleas to the ribbon-cutting ceremony the year she cut the ribbon to open the trail. She said there were other attractions, the Azalea Belles and other flowering petals to give the trail color but that there is little planners can do to circumvent nature.

Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer Henry Bell said planners once cut colored tissue paper to dot plants with because the absence of blooms.

“That year, it was really rough,” he said.

Bell said it’s easier now to keep petal fanatics informed about blooms via social media. He said the lack of blooms affect visitors who book motor coach tours, sometimes a year in advance, but that most people wait until blooms are in full swing.

“People typically come from within 500 to 1,000 miles and are experiencing similar weather, so they know to plan accordingly, but we get a lot of calls,” he said. “Most people will put it off until (blooms) are out.”