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Spring Frost & Blossoming Fruit Trees

 
Jamie Halverson
Posts: 1
Location: Versailles, MO
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My husband and I planted a small orchard in the Spring and Fall of 2014 (apples, plums, peaches, apricots, pears etc), we live in Central Missouri Ozarks so we are zone 5b. This year a plum and peach tree are already showing little flower buds about to bloom. The problem is we are about to have another frost this week, and there is bound to be one or two more after this... we've seen snow in April at times. Most say to put stakes around the trees about to blossom and put a piece of plastic bag over and around the tree to protect the buds from freezing temps. In my observation trees are obviously intelligent and respond/adjust to their environment. Since these trees are so young and won't produce much fruit this year anyway if the blossoms do make it, would the trees learn from this experience of trying to open their blossoms this early, and perhaps if this year the buds freeze off and die, next year the trees will learn to not put buds out till later in the spring? Will they adapt to our weather if we let them experience the freezing bud killing temps? Or do ya'll think they'll just keep trying to open up buds early and we'll have to do the plastic covers every year to protect our fruit crop? Thanks in advance!
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 616
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Going through the weather records for your area on Weather Underground , it looks like it has been 10 to 15 degrees warmer than average, and the trees have responded accordingly. If it's 80 degrees in mid-March, the trees are going to start blooming, they don't learn to keep track of time. The silver-lining on having your fruit buds die is that it causes the tree to put more energy into growing (instead of fruiting) so the next year's crop might be better.

I'm also in zone 5b, and the following video is one I took at the end of March 2012 showing apricots the size of marbles on the trees. While average highs for March are in the 50s, that year we had 17 days where it got up to 70 or higher. Eventually a frost killed most of the fruit. This year, we have only had one day where it topped 60 and everything is quite dormant so I am hopeful for a good crop this year.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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"The problem is the solution" adage applies here. You've wisely planted a diversity of trees, and you could add others that bloom quite late (such as persimmon, pawpaw, and mulberry) and so improve still further and assure yourself of at least some fruit every year. Many fruits often alternate bear (bear a heavy fruit crop every other year) anyway, especially older varieties. Having pauses from annual fruit production will help break the life cycle of fruit insects and diseases. Some things will be very rare to produce at all, adding to your delight when they manage to do so. Wherever I've lived in the East (MI and GA), almonds and apricots almost always bloom to early and get caught, whereas both are consistent producers here in CA.
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1047
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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forest garden trees urban
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I have heard that painting the trunk white can reduce solar gain, keeping the tree in dormancy longer and preventing frost bitten buds. Does anyone know if this actually works?
 
John Polk
master steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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William Bronson wrote: I have heard that painting the trunk white can reduce solar gain, keeping the tree in dormancy longer and preventing frost bitten buds. Does anyone know if this actually works?

It can help, but is not a 'cure-all'.
It won't delay bud break if temps are way above normal for extended periods.
I also know a guy who shovels wheelbarrows full of snow around the trunk to keep temps lower.
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 616
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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William Bronson wrote: I have heard that painting the trunk white can reduce solar gain, keeping the tree in dormancy longer and preventing frost bitten buds. Does anyone know if this actually works?

Painting the trunk white helps to keep the trunk dormant longer, the rest of the tree...not so much. A key benefit of painting the trunks white is to help reduce sun scald. Sun scald occurs when the mid-day winter sun warms up the southern side of the trunk enough to cause the cells in the trunk to wake up from dormancy. Unfortunately, night fall quickly comes and freezes those woken up cells damaging them.

I've also found that rodents don't like the taste of latex paint and tend to avoid chewing on painted trees.
 
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