9 PM Update
Just talked to Charley and Janet Smart in Fairplains (Jacksong County WV). They grow everything from apples to pears and grapes, blackberries and blueberries.
Charley tells me the pear trees are filled with tiny fruits and farther along than the other fruits. A temperature deep down in the 20s could ruin his crop.
Meanwhile the apples and grapes have no blossoms, just leaves and should handle tonight's frost no sweat. Likewise, the blueberries and blackberries have no blossoms, just little pods and foliage.
Janet is a savvy gardener and has covered her Hostea, Peonies and Bleeding Hearts.
I have noticed a breeze holding on even after sunset. This tells me there will be a split temperature from hill to dale at dawn. The colder air will bleed down to the valley floor (lows in the 20s) while slightly higher temperatures will cling to the hills where most fruit trees are located. There temperatures will be 3-5 degrees higher as the air remains stirred by the wind.
Frost Warning Translated
Sooner or later we had to pay for it. I am of course talking about all that summer in winter/spring weather. As we steamrolled through the end of the warmest March since records have been kept (late 1800s), one thing was certain; namely, frost and freezing temperatures were going to try to zap our prematurely colorful spring.
Under clear starlit skies with a crescent moon guarding the heavens, lows will dip into the mid 20s in the cold hollows while hanging closer to freezing on hills and downtown. While this means many flowers and trees will get the cold shoulder, most will merely yawn at the cold.
I have spent extensive time on the phone this afternoon talking to experts from across our region as to the fallout of tonight’s cold. Here’s what I have covered err should I say uncovered.
Hal Kneen is the extension agent from Meigs County Ohio and like our own green thumb John Marra is a walking encyclopedia on botany, agronomy and horticulture. Hal’s main concern is with trees and shrubs.
Hal says the Magnolia, which are already in petal fall, are the most at risk to getting nipped. But since they are now losing their leaves, the sting to these trees will be minimal.
Dogwood, Peonies and Azalea are also farther along than normal and Hal says both could get a nip tonight. While it is not practical to cover a Dogwood, Peonies and Azalea are a few to 4 or 5 feet tall and worth placing a cover over. Hal says to “use sheet not plastic when covering these. And do it around 6:30 pm when the sun is still out. You are going to build your own greenhouse under which the day’s heat will be trapped tonight."
One thing that will help the Azalea is that most are close to the house and will get a booster shot of heat from your home.
Fruit wise, Hal says the strawberries should be surrounded by straw to help keep the heat naturally stored in the ground close to the berries.
Flower-wise, the only candidates to be zapped are last year’s potted plants and ferns that you brought in for the winter and have placed outside in the summer-like warmth. Hal says to bring those in tonight.
Fruit-wise it will take a night deep into the 20s to severely impact the apples, peaches and pears. Steve Richards up at the famous orchards in Jackson Ohio told me the early apples have come out of pink stage and into bloom. The Red Delicious, Jonathan, Gala and Granny Smith’s are susceptible to a 25-28 degree temperature. At 28, there will be a 10% kill while at 25 degrees a 90% kill occurs.
Meanwhile the Rome Beauties are lagging behind and not at risk for a killing freeze.
Oddly, even a 90% kill is acceptable since fruit trees over-produce by 90% and the freeze would do the natural pruning of Mother Nature.
As for precautions tonight, Steve says “we will let happen what happens. It is not economically feasible to put smudge pots out for all our trees. We plant on the hills since the cold air tends to sink down into the valleys”. That is Steve’s way of saying he expects his trees to do fine tonight with a good season to follow.
In West Virginia there are many fine grape vineyards including the Taylor’s land in Roane County. Mrs. Taylor told me the plants are just now emerging and there is no concern for them at this stage even with a night in the 20s. “I worry about those late season frosts in May more”, she told me.
So to recap, tonight’s frost and freezing temperatures seem destined to not be a big deal. Still a late call from Mrs. Childers in Spring Valley said it best.
Mrs C “Tony I have tomatoes in my house 2 feet tall and I am going away for awhile. Can I put them out after tonight?”
Tony “No way, there are more frosts down the road, after all it is still March”.
Bottom line then, this is just the first frost scare of several this spring.