Early warmth has buds bursting a month before trail opens
Early pink star magnolia blooms and crimson azaleas sprinkle areas of the Azalea District nearly a month before the 2013 Tyler Azalea & Spring Flower Trail officially opens.
Weather dictates when flowers reach their full blooming potential, and blooms dictate the success of one of Tyler's biggest annual tourist draws.
Warmer weather could push petal peaks before the trail opens. A late freeze could decimate early blooms.
Homeowner and Azalea Trail participant Guy Pyron said he doesn't have any concern about his plants other than a late, sustained freeze or another winter blast keeping tourists away after the trail opens on March 15.
Pyron said early blooms indicate to him the first week to 10 days of the three-week event will be the best. He's been participating in the annual event for 17 years and said the peak for flowering blooms always occurs, it's just a matter of when and how long it will last.
"It may be a little earlier or a little later," he said. "People ask when will the trail peak, but it's different every year."
Kim Morris, spokeswoman for the Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Azalea Trail seemingly faces similar concerns or events every year.
"We've had snow, tornadoes, all kinds of events, but the Azalea Trail continues to draw crowds," she said.
But professional landscapers and gardeners see cause for concern about early blooms facing a late freeze.
Wilhite Landscaping and Lawn Care owner James Wilhite said the long, continuous cold over the Christmas holidays and New Year, followed by recent warm weather, has plants' and trees' buds swelling and even flowering, he said.
"The chilling factors were fulfilled and then the warmth was fulfilled, and the plants got convinced it was time," he said.
Wilhite said a cooler forecast is good news and may keep buds in check as the trail opening nears. He said he hasn't heard worries from residents regarding early blooms but sees reason for concern.
Buds that remain fully dormant face a lesser threat than blooms or buds beginning to open up, he said.
The Azalea Trail opening is "still a month away, and I'm not so certain we won't have cold weather before then," he said. "If I get good enough to predict that I will do something different."
KYTX CBS19 Chief Meteorologist John Adams said temperatures are expected to drop into the mid- to low 30s over the weekend. Temperatures could reach the freezing mark in some places, he said.
Low temperatures in Tyler average in the low 40 degrees in February, with highs in the 60s, he said. But the average date for the last freeze before spring is March 24.
Ms. Morris said flower fans can monitor azalea hot spots on the city's website, tylerazaleatrail.com. Weekly photo journals are posted to show how petals are progressing.
Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Tyler to take in the beauty of the city's azaleas and other spring flowers. The trail spans 10 miles and hundreds of homes.
The Azalea & Spring Flower Trail welcomed 95,941 visitors and had an economic impact of more than $2.67 million in 2012.
The total economic impact of the 2012 trail was a 15.2 percent spike from the $2.32 million generated in 2011, according to the 2012 Azalea and Spring Flower Trail Visitor Result Survey, prepared by the Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Most tourists interested in the azaleas will plan accordingly," she said. "Last year, we couldn't have asked for a better display of flowers."
Keith Hansen, horticulture specialist at the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, said homeowners can take precautions to protect some outdoor flowering plants from light freezing temperatures, including draping plants with old sheets or frost cloth. But sustained, sub-freezing temperatures would likely damage blooms and buds beginning to open up, he said.
Hansen said the weather and subsequent flowering process are up to nature.
"Keep your fingers crossed," Hansen said. "They're going to do what they do."
Staff Writer Casey Murphy contributed to this report.