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Festival to go on without trees

CONYERS - The 27th annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival gets under way this weekend at the Georgia International Horse Park, but it will have to carry on without one of its long-time symbols.

The tradition of offering cherry trees for sale at the festival will be broken this year thanks to Mother Nature.

A late freeze during last year's growing season followed by a severe drought through much of the Southeast greatly reduced the number of cherry trees that were available.

"The master gardeners have really been on a quest for cherry trees up until last week, when we were told there are no sufficient quantities to purchase for sale at the festival," said Jennifer Bexley, director of the GIHP. "This was beyond our control and we hate it, but we don't want someone to visit the festival and be disappointed at not being able to purchase a cherry tree."

The Rockdale County Extension Service and Master Gardener Volunteer Organization partners with the city to provide the trees, and Extension Director Jule-Lynn Macie said the trees this year were just not available.

"The supply of trees was simply not there and the trees that were available were too small," Macie said. "This has always been a popular element of the Cherry Blossom Festival, but we're choosing to view this small setback as doing our part in providing alternative plants for sale that do not require as much water as cherry trees."

This means all is not lost for those looking to bring forth the power of their green thumbs.

The master gardeners will be offering 5-inch potted herbs and tomatoes for $5 each at their booth located next to the information booth at the festival's main entrance.

Macie said the herbs and tomatoes are being acquired from a local nursery to support agribusiness and these plants can be grown in containers and watered with pre-used water.

"Given that we're still under level-four water restrictions statewide, we see this as doing our part in educating the public on our responsibilities to conserve water," Macie said.

The booth will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. both days of the festival, and master gardeners will be on hand to answer questions the public may have about caring for their plants.

The festival will take place Saturday and Sunday on the grand prix plaza at the GIHP.

Ric Latarski can be reached at ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.