With the memorable 2014 winter slowly coming to a close, the winter effects on the trees seems to be a question resonating throughout the orchard from concerned fruit lovers everywhere. I have been reluctant to write about the effects the winter has had on the orchard. We saw a low temperature of -18F which can lead to winter injury to the newer wood and buds in sensitive stone fruit trees, especially peach, apricot, nectarine, and plum. But now the Arctic air is finally leaving us, so Jack cut a few apricot and sweet cherry branches to bring inside and put into a bucket of water where they will begin to grow if they are not injured. I am happy to report that the sweet cherry and the apricot flower buds began to grow and had green tissue inside. Yay! It has been a stress. This only tells us the flower buds aren’t dead yet. We still have to get through the most perilous time just before bloom.
Typically winter injury occurs when we have warmer days followed by extreme cold, but very cold weather will kill the buds, or the new wood from last year’s growth. Both of the samples that Jack brought in have dead wood on the tips of some of the branches. We are still nervous about the blocks of sweet cherry, apricot, and plum trees. The new trees grow more rapidly and then they don’t harden off as well and are more susceptible to winter injury. We have had years here where 3/4 of the trees in a block were dead above the snow line in a 3 year old orchard. We will wait to see how our new trees have fared.
We try to choose varieties that have a proven record of tolerance for winter cold. Winter injury is why we don’t have big peach growers in Northern Michigan. It is too risky. Apples and pears are much hardier and so you will see live apple trees in all of the old farmyards across Northern Michigan but the only apricots are very near the Great Lakes, on a hill, where the lake moderates temperature extremes. The best fruit sites are also the best development sites, so typically fruit land is a lot more expensive than row crop farmland. The rolling hills and lakes surrounding our orchards help to minimize the harsh winter effects of Northern Michigan on our fruit trees.