Fruit Trees Await Cold

A Freeze Alert has been issued, but Tony says the risk is more a concern down south than in our neck of the woods.

Freeze Threat Always a Concern to Agriculture

Leave it up to spring in Appalachia to keep gardeners and landscapers on their toes. No sooner had we enjoyed a beautiful Palm Sunday with temperatures near 80, that strong thunderstorms armed with high winds and even hail plowed thru the region last night.

Storm damage was spotty but impressive with barns de-roofed, trampolines tossed around like toys and trees plucked from the ground in the strongest gusts. Elliott and Pike Counties Kentucky and Putnam and Wayne WV seemed to be among the hardest hit.

Now comes word of a two night siege of cold weather with the real prospects of sub-freezing temperatures and even a coating of snow. Though a Freeze Warning has been issued, the horticulturists and farmers I have talked to are not too worried.

For a historical basis, two years ago a harsher and longer lived spell of cold weather followed an even warmer spell of spring weather. This set the stage for the most devastating spring freeze in 40 years.

In 2007, both fruit bearing and ornamental fruit trees were in full bloom in early April thanks to an incredible spell of 80 degree March days. Four nights in the 20s doomed the crops (apple, pear and peach crops were obliterated) and the beauty of the spring trees was annihilated (Dogwood, Crab Apple, Cherry trees lost their luster).

Steve Richards of the famous Richards Brothers orchards in Jackson Ohio tells me his crop is in good shape this year. “Right now we are in the pink stage of the apples and they can handle temperatures down into the low 20s if not upper teens. Four years ago it was the fourth night of 20 degree air that ruined our crop”.

Hal Kean, Meigs County Extension agent agrees with Steve comprehensively. “The ornamental trees are fine tonight, and the coating of snow that is forecast would also act to insulate the trees. As you know Tony, if the wind holds up, that air movement will hold the temperature higher”.

Now Tuesday night and Wednesday morning do look colder, but the threshold for damage to fruit and ornamental trees does not seem to be in jeopardy, though we have another day to monitor that forecast. The temperature would have to get down to 20 degrees for a massive freeze. Right now, our forecast is 28 on Wednesday morning.

For tonight and Tuesday morning, rain will change to wet snow with a coating in many areas at dawn. Lows will be close to 30 which the fruit trees and ornamentals will yawn at!

By the way, agricultural interests down south are in a much tougher situation. In the Carolinas and Georgia, peach, pear, apple and plum trees are in full bloom and air temperatures in the mid 20s are a stark reality by Wednesday dawn. I sense the Georgia peaches and Carolina apples are in for a severe freeze.

Masters fans don’t fret. The ornamental fruit trees and plants on the Augusta National plantation will no doubt be protected by commercial heaters and a sub surface heating system. So while the Dogwood and Azalea in the south may be nipped, the Masters foliage will be out in all its glory.

My “long shot” pick to wear the Green Jacket come Sunday is England’s Luke Donald.
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