By Gail Vanik
If the swelling on the buds of the trees in my yard is any indication, we might be in for an early spring.
Although warm weather early in the season is always welcome after short winter days, they aren’t good news if you have an orchard or flowering fruit trees. Many years, the trees break dormancy and begin to flower just in time for a hard freeze to kill all the blossoms, and you end up losing your fruit for that year. The good news is that there is a way to slow their blooms and perhaps save your crop.
You might be able to save your crop by artificially delaying when they break dormancy and start to flower. Do this by applying a thick layer of mulch, straw or hay around the trees, which tricks them into thinking it’s still winter and not time to start growing. It is important to do this before the sun strengthens and the ground begins to thaw and warm, usually in January or February. Now is the perfect time.
Prepare your trees while the ground is still frozen because you want to keep the ground soil from changing temperatures too quickly. The mulch will warm up, but the ground beneath it will stay cool. In effect, it’s reverse insulation because instead of trying to keep something warm, you are trying to force it to stay cool.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, hay or straw around your fruit trees out to the dripline. This is the imaginary line where water would drip from the tree’s leaves to the ground. By “thick layer,” I mean just that – at least a foot deep and up to 2 feet. You can use any organic matter – hay, straw or mulch. Even compost or Back to Earth will work well. The point is to get something on top of the ground above those roots that will keep them from warming up.
When applying your mulch, be sure to leave a gap of a few inches right at the base of the tree trunk to allow sunlight and air in to circulate. If you cover the base of the tree with a foot of mulch, you can kill the tree.
Leave your covering material on until the tree begins to break bud, then remove it. This method will usually delay the blooming by one to two weeks, which might be just enough time to save your crop.
Obviously this will require quite a bit of material, so it might work best with smaller trees. You can recycle the mulch, Back to Earth or compost for use in your garden. Hay and straw can be repurposed too.
Although this method isn’t foolproof, particularly if we have a surprise late freeze or two, it works well in many areas to give the blossoms just enough time to make it through the hard freezes that often plague our area during spring.
If you are a fruit lover who is tired of having beautiful, leafy fruit trees, without any fruit to harvest come summer, it’s a relatively easy and fairly inexpensive trick worth trying in your home orchard.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at [email protected]