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woody perennials fail against weird weather

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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So, for the second year here in Denver, the trees are waking up in February. Last year, February hit 80 degrees, then March was cold. April was warm again, and we got our last snow on Mother's day, followed by two months of rain and chill. Things didn't dry out until the middle of June.

Nobody got any fruit in Denver. Many trees didn't regrow leaves until the end of June. Some trees didn't make it. Roses died to the ground.

Most of the annuals were planted late, but produced anyway. Herbaceous perennials were better then ever with all the rain, and were largely insulated against the wild weather by dead vegetation and snowfall.

Now the same pattern is repeating. What woody perennials wake up late? I've been thinking about large hazelnut plantings, but this does not seem like a good idea anymore.

Maybe Front Range permaculturists need to focus on herbaceous plants?

Any advice or thoughts are welcome.
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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This has been on my mind too, as every damn thing is budding out right now, way too early. My climate is quite a bit more forgiving than yours in general, but a couple years back on my parents land we had a very warm winter followed by very late last frost. Not all trees lost their crop, but it was a near thing. With apples being our main fruit trees, we were alright, as they bloom a bit later than the cherries and plums... it was only a bad year, not a terrible one. I think people in a warm microclimate vs our cold microclimate had a terrible year.


As far as dealing with it, I intend to plant as wide a spread of bloom times as possible, and to deliberately seek out and create microclimates to push both directions, not just for warmth. Beyond this, some species and cultivars are less tender than others... planting some things that will thrive in the cold years and struggle in the rest seems just as reasonable as the probably more common practice of planting things which will thrive in warm years and struggle otherwise, and doing both makes the most sense of all.

This post talks about some specific species/cultivars that might be of interest to you: http://www.sustainablehomesteading.com/edible-and-medicinal-plants/growing-cold-hardy-food-forest-berries-vines-fruit-trees/

Beyond that, there are certainly people who go in for more direct intervention. The use of old-style incandescent christmas lights to keep things a bit warmer is generally limited to more exotic trees, but there's no reason it couldn't be tried on things that *should* be happy without, as a climate-bandaid. Heavy mulching, wrapping in plastic... I've heard of people sheltering large quantities of trees under carport style roofs, or large hoop houses, as well.

I think most of those options in the second list are bordering on council-of-desperation, and that on the homestead scale in the long term it is probably more practical to diversify as broadly as possible so even multiple crop failures are not a big deal... a nice theory, at least.


Which herbaceous perennials did well for you last year?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Dillon,

I don't have many herbaceous perennials of an edible type, but I do some yard care for other folks, and the ornamental perennials all seemed to do quite well, better then usual.

Would trees that needed a large number of chilling hours be less likely to wake up in midwinter?

I'll look into different varieties.

As far as protection, I was just thinking about using some sort of 8 foot, temporary fence directly to the south of rows of small trees or shrubs. It would create a cold, moist micro climate, and keep snow piled up longer, all of which would be a benefit. Then when spring had really come it could be taken down. Or, if it was planned cleverly, the sun angle would have increased so that it didn't need to be moved.
 
Akiva Silver
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I think that Colorado might be more suited to something like a nut pine than to a fruit tree, but I have never lived there.
For what its worth, I have seen American type hazel flowers survive temps as low as 5 f.
 
Tyler Miller
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Location: Trapper Creek, AK (3a)
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The trees around here are all budding out way too early too.

Akiva Silver wrote:I think that Colorado might be more suited to something like a nut pine than to a fruit tree, but I have never lived there.
For what its worth, I have seen American type hazel flowers survive temps as low as 5 f.

Badgersett also says that their hybrid hazels can tolerate freezing after blooming.
[T]hey have been through a +4° F freeze IN FULL FLOWER; with
no effect on the crop. That’s only 4° above 0°. I’ll say that again. Hard freezes have no effect
on the crop. Frequently they will flower in early April, with the ground still frozen; it's their
normal timing. This is hard to comprehend for people used to apples or cherries, where a
slight frost of +30°F during flowering can completely destroy the crop for that year.

Source

Another woody perennial that might work out well is honeyberry. They are supposed to be one of the earliest producers and their flowers are supposed to be fairly frost tolerant.

I planted some honeyberries last year, and I have hybrid hazels on order from Badgersett (in theory) but I don't have any personal experience with them when it comes to weird weather.

There are some really short woody perennials that might do okay due to snow cover. Many varieties of blueberries, canberries, lingonberries and other members of the vaccinium genus are dwarfs. Some currants have a tendency to sprawl along the ground.

I'm looking into growing grapes up here, and one technique people in cold climates sometimes use is to train grapes to a collapsible trellis. During the winter the grapes are laid down so they get protection from the snow. This necessitates cutting them to the ground every once in a while so that they remain flexible enough to lay down. I'm not sure if that counts as "woody" or not.

I know very little about mulberry trees, but I've read that they produce fruit all summer. Do they set all of their buds and flowers at once, or are they continually producing them over the course of the summer? If it's the latter they might be resistant to weird weather.

Then there's the ultimate woody perennial: mushrooms! (har har har)

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Thanks for the advice! I'll look into them. Snow cover here is fairly nonexistent; snow tends to stick around less then a week, and then is gone; warm and sunny until the next batch. But substitutes could be devised over low plants.

I've heard of people bending down and burying figs, like the grape technique you mentioned. Since my last post, we have had ANOTHER tree breaking snow.
 
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