Two weeks before the busiest time of the year, gardeners in Hanoi's peach flower villages expect ideal blossoms, although torrential rains in the north months ago and lower consumption will likely cut into their earnings.

"At around 14-15 degrees Celsius, we have both the flowers and the buds and that is perfect," said Do Thi Mai, a long-time grower in Phu Thuong village of Tay Ho district, as she pruned her trees of withered early blossoms to spur fresh growth.

There are only about 40-50 households growing peach blossom trees in the village, in comparison with hundreds in the district's Nhat Tan village. Those who stick to the trade are mostly middle-aged and elderly, and they must be hardened: the blooms require an entire year of hard work to cultivate but are sold for only a few weeks.

"We often count on the second and third rounds of blooms to have perfect flowers," Mai said.

Peach flowers are a must-have item for northern families during the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on January 31. For the gardeners, however, the holiday is a nervous time, as a year of hard work and investment is on the line. If it's too hot, the flowers turn an insipid pink and if it's too cold, the trees can't blossom.

Mai said this year her household invested about 40 million VND (2,000 USD) for nearly 1,000 square meters and hoped for a return of about 100 million VND (5,000 USD), but feared that many people would buy cheaper peach branches to save money instead of splurging on a 10-million-VND tree.

"I'm a bit worried because the cost for temporary workers is about 250,000 VND (12 USD) a day and I need to sell enough to pay them for a year of work," she said.

Nguyen Van Duong, another gardener in Phu Thuong village, is even more concerned. Since his garden specialises in large-root peach blossom trees, most people only rent them instead of buying the entire tree.

Duong said some of the roots soaked up too much water and were affected by insects after lengthy rains in July and August; moreover, input costs rose by about 30-40 percent this year.

"Even though the flowers turned out to be great due to the weather not being extremely cold or too hot, I fear that selling will be slow because people want to save money for other things," he said.

In Nhat Tan village, 54-year-old owner Do Thi Hong was waiting for buyers to come. Her garden boasts about 300 peach blossom trees. So far, she had sold mostly to companies, which tend to buy weeks earlier than families before office workers leave for Tet vacation.

Prices could range from 2-3 million VND to 10-14 million VND, according to Hong, who said some gardeners in Nhat Tan lost some roots in the rainy season, which might keep prices high because buyers would have fewer options.

"My flowers were not too affected by the rain because I used lots of soil to protect the roots," Hong said. "If the weather stays around 16 Celsius degrees like this, the flowers will be great. I hope there won't be too much sunshine."

Chu Quang Duc, who has been growing the trees for more than 20 years, hoped the economic situation would not put a damper on holiday flower shopping.

"I hope people will spend because it's only once-a-year occasion. It does not hurt to spend more to welcome the spring," he said.-VNA