Adapting to spring in winter
It is obvious to anyone who ventures outdoors that this is shaping up to be a crazy weather year. The big question for the horticulturally inclined is “how will spring in winter affect my plants?” We are all worried, as we should be, by these aberrant climatic patterns. The plants are confused too. Some plants are breaking dormancy early, some are late. For instance my Cornelian Cherries, with their freeze proof blooms, are just coming into bloom, having finally accumulated enough below freezing degree-days to flower, whereas last year they were blooming by mid-January. While the maples, early cherries and plums in the Piedmont are coming into bloom now.
The folks that study such things say much of the Southeast is 20 days ahead of schedule in terms of spring plant development. Phenology is the technical name for the science of correlating timing of plant growth with climate and meterological data. Here’s a link to the USA National Phenology Network’s website, www.usanpn.org, where you can see phenology maps of the Southeast’s advancing spring, access their research work, and even participate in the data gathering for the National Phenology Network.
Given that current reality of change being the only certainty, and with the spring blooming fruits of our region being notorious for emerging in a warm spell and then getting hammered by a hard frost, I’d say our favorite fruit yields for those spring bloomers, such as apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and blueberries, are at serious risk of freeze damage once they begin to bud swell and flower.
Some plants will likely get through unfazed if their flowing timing catches a lucky break, but the uncertainty suggests some preparation to protect your flowering fruits may be in order. The most reliable method would be to drape or cover your susceptible plants during the danger period. If you don’t have a supply of freeze protection blankets on hand and a plan for how to secure them, I’d suggest you avail yourself of a supply and some cord, stakes, and landscape staples to secure them during windy conditions.
So, for the homeowner, what are your best freeze protection blanket materials choices? Probably the best simple option would be a supply of cheap or used acrylic or wool blankets in the larger sizes for small trees, and smaller sizes for bushes. They will work so much better than sheets, burlap, tarps or plastic if there is a hard freeze. The spun bonded veggie row covers are generally too light, and will be ripped up by the branches of trees or shrubs. For larger scale, there are some very durable, nursery winter protection blanket materials available, but they come in large rolls and may be ordered from nursery supply businesses.
You can check out UPN’s instructional youtube videos on winter protecting figs for some more elaborate freeze protection schemes. However, they are more elaborate than needed for a few nights of protection. Generally just draping and securing your plants will be sufficient.
I’ll be giving a talk at this spring’s Organic Grower’s School in Asheville on Sunday, March 12 on horticultural responses to climate uncertainty. We’ll look at permacultural and horticultural strategies and methods to grow healthy, fruitful plants during the challenging growing conditions that will mark the times ahead.
Cultivating Abundance, …. The chuckster