Normally, Mike Marino spends Patriots Day weekend on the ski slopes of Sugarloaf and at the mountain resort’s Bud Light Reggae Fest.
But with azalea bushes and cherry trees in full bloom, Marino couldn’t resist the call of his vegetable plot at the Cape Elizabeth Community Garden off Sawyer Road. On Sunday he was spending the second day in a row in the dirt, mulching his half-foot tall garlic plants and burgeoning kale.
“It’s looking pretty good,” Marino said.
Marino was among a legion of gardeners getting a head start in growing conditions that are running a month ahead of schedule. Lawn mowers were even being fired up as homeowners took advantage of dry, sunny skies and temperatures that are expected to reach into the 80s today.
Homeowners, dressed in shorts and sandals, dusted off barbecue grills and hauled out lawn chairs weeks earlier than usual.
“We are doing what we usually do on Memorial Day,” said Jessica Johnson of South Portland.
Johnson was among the throngs buying up plants at Broadway Gardens in South Portland, where there wasn’t a parking spot to be found at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
Phil Roberts, the owner, said he was spending a lot of time trying to convince shoppers to stick to hardy pansies because the chances of a hard frost are far from over.
Roberts said the smart gardeners are using the early spring to get a jump on spring cleanup.
“We are selling a lot of mulch early,” Roberts said.
Kelly Tarbox, owner of Springvale Nurseries Inc. in Sanford, said she too was trying to talk backyard gardeners from premature purchases.
“You don’t want to be disappointed or have a bad experience,” Tarbox said.
She said annuals shouldn’t go into the ground yet, but this is a great time to plant shrubs, trees and hardy perennials.
At South Portland High School, ecology teacher Tonia Ferrante and her children, Trevor, 8, and Nadia, 4, tended the school’s three-year-old student gardens on Sunday. Ferrante said that during the heat wave in March, her students planted some peas in the raised beds weeks ahead of schedule. The gamble paid off.
On Sunday, they were poking up from the dirt by several inches.
But the warm weather coupled with the lack of rain — precipitation is running 5 inches below average for the year and 2 inches behind this month so far — have some professionals worried.
“I am a little afraid of this weather; actually, I am very afraid,” said Dave Tuttle, owner of Riverside Farm in North Berwick.
He said his strawberry plants are way ahead of schedule, making their blooming time vulnerable to a frost, which is a distinct possibility for another month or so. He installed the irrigation system weeks early in case he needs to use it to protect the plants from freezing, or from drying up if it doesn’t rain soon.
“Things have gone so crazy,” he said.
Still, he couldn’t resist putting in a section of small garden crops, including beets and lettuces.
“This is the first time I ever planted in March. Everything is coming up beautifully,” he said.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: