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Odd March weather still affecting local gardening businesses

The abnormally warm March weather in the Chicago region is still having an affect on local gardening businesses. Some stores that saw their profits double in March are now experiencing a bit of a slump.

Jack Prikos, owner of The Farmers Market Garden Center in Chicago, said his store looked completely different this past March than in recent years. Normally, employees are setting up the inside of the store in March while looking out the windows at snow or bad weather. But this year, Prikos said, he had shrubs blooming way ahead of schedule, and the store was full of eager gardeners wanting to plant early.

Yet with every plant they sold, Prikos and his employees sent out a warning to their customers: just because it's warm now, doesn't mean there won't be a cold snap later.

"This is my eighteenth year in the business doing this, so when it's too good to be true there's usually something wrong," he said.

Prikos said gardeners who purchased plants early probably saw some of them die off because of the colder weather in April. The garden center has lost out on impulse purchases since March, something Prikos said usually makes up a good chunk of his store's sales. Since everything started so early this year, Prikos said shoppers aren't swayed by blooming plants to take home more than they came for.

According to Boyce Tankersley from the Chicago Botanic Garden, the warm March weather pushed the normal growing cycle for plants at least four weeks ahead of schedule. Tankersley said he was tempted to start his planting early, but with the threat of a cold snap still eminent, he's still waffling.

"Being a smart customer, I'm not buying petunias in full bloom right now, though the urge is there," he said.

Tankersley said the growing pattern was shifted so drastically this year because early spring and early summer plants respond to temperature, while plants that bloom after July 4th respond more to day length. Because of that, he expects things will be back to normal by mid-summer.

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