For Release February 9, 1999
Say Good-bye to the Apricot Crop
by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent
I have always said that Kansas, at least our part of Kansas, is not fruit country. One of the major reasons is weather like weve had the past week. Weather extremes, especially warm spells in January and February, are the bane of fruit trees. For that reason, and given the weather for the past week, Im convinced that we wont have an apricot crop this year and peaches are looking pretty "iffy" too! Lets examine why.
The blossoms, that will hopefully bloom on fruit trees this spring, were formed late last summer. They are tiny, nearly microscopic, blossoms comprised of perhaps no more than a few dozen plant cells. As the tree goes dormant, these little buds are very well protected against winters rigors. As winter gets into full swing these buds can easily survive temperatures into the -20 degree realm. The big problem comes in that once any plant starts to break winter dormancy it can not re-acclimate to the same degree of cold tolerance that it originally had. If a bud was safe to -20 and it starts to break dormancy it can still return to dormancy with additional cold weather, but now it may only be hardy to -15 or -10 or zero. This is true for fruit trees, spring flowering shrubs and wheat.
Not all plants or even all varieties of the same plant have the same degree of winter hardiness. Additionally, the amount of warm weather (both intensity and duration) will cause different species/varieties to break dormancy earlier. As a group, apricots and sweet cherries (Bing) are some of the earliest to break dormancy. Sour cherries are one of the latest to break dormancy and are probably our most consistent fruit performer. Apples and pears are in between, somewhat closer to sour cherries. Peaches are between apples and apricots.
We cant forget the impact of micro-climate either. An apricot tree planted on the south side of your house will break dormancy earlier than an apricot tree planted on the north side of your house. This is why siting where you plant fruit trees is so important. The instinct is to plant the tree in the warmest part of the yard because you are trying to protect it from the cold. What you should be doing instead is trying to protect it from the early warm up. Plant that tree in the last spot that the snow melts, but where itll still get good sunshine in summer. If you are real serious about fruit production I would even go so far as to mulch the base of the plants in early January, after the soil has gotten real cold, and then, if we have snow, pile extra snow up over the root zone of the tree. Air temperature partially dictates when a plant breaks dormancy, but soil temperature and day length are important also.
So why do I feel that the apricot crop is already history? Just take a look at the daily highs during January and February. January was 1.5 degrees above normal. February has been having daily highs 10 to 20 degrees above normal. Tree buds are starting to swell indicating a break in winter dormancy and a decrease in winter hardiness. Average last frost is around April 16th. Thats almost 10 weeks away. Im not seeing we absolutely WONT have apricots or peaches, but given the weather the odds are strongly against it.
What can you do now? Nothing! Mother Nature is going to do what she darn well wants to. If you are planting new fruit trees find the coldest spot possible to put them in. If you have existing fruit trees just continue to take care of them every year regardless of whether they have fruit on them or not. Remember that even if they dont have fruit this year, the flower buds for next years crop will be made in the late summer and the healthier the plant is at that time, the more flower buds that will be produced. Regardless of what happens this year youve always got to have hope for the next year!
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