Long winter season delays start of Derby plantings at Churchill - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Long winter season delays start of Derby plantings at Churchill Downs

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In mid-March about the only people around Churchill Downs are the Derby Museum tourists and the small army sprucing up the track. In mid-March about the only people around Churchill Downs are the Derby Museum tourists and the small army sprucing up the track.
VP of Communications John Asher VP of Communications John Asher
Matt Bizzell Matt Bizzell
Extra cold and snow means mulch didn't go down when it should have and planting is a little late plus some of the perennials won't make it. Extra cold and snow means mulch didn't go down when it should have and planting is a little late plus some of the perennials won't make it.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Crews will need every minute of the time left until the Kentucky Derby to make sure Churchill Downs is ready thanks to a long, cold and snowy winter.

In mid-March about the only people around Churchill Downs are the Derby Museum tourists and the small army sprucing up the track.

This year it, "Might run a little slower than we'd like but we're doing what we can in particular with the turf course," said VP of Communications John Asher.

The winter of 2014 will be remembered for a long time for its cold and snowy clutch on Louisville, giving Churchill's newly seeded turf track less time to plant its roots. It's a change from the grass variety mix that has been around on the turf track since its appearance at Churchill on the mid-1980s.

"This particular type of grass, tall fescue, would be stronger, root systems would be stronger, would be a very hearty grass for a course that takes a lot of activity," said Asher.

The late start to the growing season didn't worry Asher at all. Horticultural director Matt Bizzell is a different story.

"I would say we're about two weeks behind on our workload," Bizzell said.

It's Bizzell's team that's responsible for taking 16,000 plants and turning the bare track you see in the winter to the colorful one we're used to on Derby day.

"The petunias are good for us because they can handle a little bit of cold because we put these in at the end of April," said Bizzell.

Extra cold and snow means mulch didn't go down when it should have and planting is a little late plus some of the perennials won't make it.

"We have a lot of neat things that you normally see in Tennessee or Georgia and so we have a few of those that are bound to be dead," said Bizzell.

Asher has seen a lot of Derbies and he has no doubt the first Saturday in May will be as colorful as ever before.

"All of a sudden, it just kind of bursts forward and the tulips pop up and you see the trees start to come out and the roses start to pop up," Asher said.

There is one positive to the cold and late start to the growing season.  The tulips in Aristides Garden, one of the great signs of spring around Churchill are just starting to show through the mulch. Bizzell said the more they get pushed back, the more likely they'll be peaking for Derby day.

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