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Experts Assess Effects of Mild Weather, Lack of Snow

The unseasonably mild falls and early winter may have caused a few forsythias, rhododendrons and blueberries to flower in some parts of the state later than usual, but the warm and largely snowless winter isn’t expected to significantly affect wildlife or plant cycles, according to several University of Maine Cooperative Extension specialists.

Extension pest management specialist Jim Dill and Extension veterinarian Anne Lichtenwalner say the lack of snow, however, could result in larger tick populations, which can detrimentally affect deer and moose. Warm days can cause moose to overheat, Lichtenwalner says, which is a stressor for them.

Ticks, not usually active during the winter months, can become so when temperatures get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. “With little snow cover and a mild winter, they could be active all winter long, on and off, since they aren’t buried under a couple of feet of snow,” Dill says.

For livestock owners, Lichtenwalner says freeze-thaw cycles likely are helping to reduce survival of intestinal parasite eggs in the animals’ environments.

The warmer than usual fall kept nuisance grubs active longer than usual in 2011, Dill says, but he doubts grub populations will be affected by the unseasonably balmy fall.

Extension professor and ornamental horticulturist Lois Berg Stack advises that late flowering of some plants should not affect the spring flower display.

Lack of snow to insulate the ground could allow frost to penetrate deeper into the ground, Stack says, which can mean some marginally hardy plants and some plants in containers left outdoors for the winter may succumb, as roots are generally not as hardy as shoots. “People who try plants that are not truly hardy in a normal Maine winter might see some loss,” she says.

For further details, Dill can be reached at (207) 581-3879, Lichtenwalner is available at (207) 581-2788 and Stack can be reached at (207) 581-2949.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756


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