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Early winter

Posted by Claude Jolicoeur 
Early winter
November 15, 2019 12:23PM
Many of us in the north east (of North America) are seeing an earlier than normal winter. Here in Quebec we had a serious snow storm on Tuesday (Nov. 12) and we have been seeing continuous sub-freezing temperatures for about 10 days now with lows that reached around -15C (5F). Such conditions normally don't occur before December in normal years here. So this is a good 3 to 4 weeks early.
I am wondering what can be the result of such conditions on winter hardiness. If trees are expecting to have 3 extra weeks to harden well before getting into real winter, and in a year like the one we are now seeing, these hardening weeks are suppressed, I would think the wood might be more subjected to winter damage.
Any thoughts?
I guess we'll see next spring...
Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Early winter
November 16, 2019 07:56PM
Yes, we've had way colder than normal weather here for the first 1/2 of November too. Coldest morning was 8F last week. Weather is almost back to normal now, but I am wondering the same thing, if any of the tree's will have suffered any damage? Yes, I guess we'll see next spring !

Pat

Brampton Lake Orchards

Zone 4a Upper Michigan
Re: Early winter
November 18, 2019 07:54PM
This uncharacteristic November can certainly have a negative effect. The acclimation period for woody perennials like apple trees is best viewed as a long series of steps/plateaus that is always hampered by sudden or unusual shifts in local conditions. This is one of the reasons we are instructed to lay off pruning and fertilizing in the fall. I won't get into all the details, but some mentionables are sugar/soluble solid contents in cells, water evacuation into intercellular spaces, and nutrient reclamation from aborting leaves. This all and more needs to happen in a timely and unrushed fashion.

Something to think about, and I am assuming this has happened throughout the northeast to some degree, is a pretty mild and extended late summer/early fall. Here in northern Vermont, we had a lot that ripened nicely that has not done so in years, with our true first "crushing" freeze happening about 3 weeks later than last year.

Add to this any areas (like ours) that had trees carrying a heavy crop creating stress. The aforementioned mild early fall means a lot of folks saw fruit clinging and ripening later than in other years. These will absolutely be tough on a tree getting ready for winter. If you poke through historical data you will find a lot of the orchard collapses were less about severe cold and more about large late crops and frigid falls.

And maybe everything will be just fine. The annoying part is, in many cases, cold damage can take years to be really noticeable. Of course, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it. I won't get into the global weirding discussion, but anomolies like this always makes me think it is probably something stupid we all had a hand in.
Re: Early winter
December 01, 2019 09:53AM
We've been buried under almost 2 feet of snow in the last 5 days.....and we still have over 3 months of winter to go !! Tell me again why anyone would want to live here !!! LOL

Brampton Lake Orchards

Zone 4a Upper Michigan
Re: Early winter
December 01, 2019 10:04AM
That's dead easy. You have a 2 ft. deep blanket of snow on the ground to protect your apple trees roots. Last year here, (in Nove Scotia), we had practically no snow, no protection of the roots, no moisture to replenish the aquifers, so major drought damage this past summer. You've got it good!

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Early winter
December 01, 2019 11:28AM
David's comment should come as a reminder to those in the colder climates to think hard about rootstock choices. Dwarfing stock gives us orchardists a benefit, but it comes at a cost. Most of the root mass on these stay close to the soil surface, and thus far more vulnerable both to cold temps and temperature swings. Now, all apple roots put a lot of so called feeder roots in these upper zone, but the majority of material is deep, and thus can rebound well when damage does occur. This is all distinct from discussions about actual cold hardiness of rootstocks. Any weirdness in the weather is just going to make this worse for marginal stocks. Yes, mulching will help and most of us do this anyway, but to really aid in cold protection you need a lot. And a lot of anything gets expensive.
Re: Early winter
December 01, 2019 01:07PM
Yes David, I agree, always good to have some snow cover on your roots. However, last year we had almost 3 feet on the ground and I lost several trees to voles. They were actually able to get on top of the snow layers and ring some of my trees ABOVE the tree guards. The fact that we have this much snow already is not good. Our deer herd also took a big hit last winter, and if we have only normal snowfall for the rest of the winter we could end up with close to 4 feet on the ground by March. The deer herd, and probably many of my trees will be TOAST !!

I am seriously already thinking about renting some piece of equipment that I could run up and down the rows with to pack the snow down so I can access the trees and pack the snow down around them, maybe a snowmobile would work? A lot of work for sure, but I don't want to lose dozens of trees again..

Pat

Brampton Lake Orchards

Zone 4a Upper Michigan
Re: Early winter
December 01, 2019 02:06PM
When vole pressure is high, and especially if you have low branches, a good method is to use screen stripping. I have a new and more complicated method for borer/rodent control that I will spare you for now, but the following works well for winter when you want to go high: cut long strips of metal screen 3-4 inches wide and spiral this around the trunk from base to, well, as high as you expect damage (ie snow level for most of the winter). I have had damage over 4 feet up here in northern Vt. It may be overkill for many growers, but it is bullet proof, especially for your favorites.

As for packing snow: It surely makes it difficult for rodents to tunnel, as well as make it easy to walk/snowshoe. I know Michael makes mention of xx skiing for a more enjoyable method. However- snow's insulating power comes from air pockets, which you will eliminate by compaction. Yes, ice does insulate, but nothing like snow- it is similar to the r value of a fiberglass insulation vs a block of glass.

Everyone should probably be trapping in the orchard to keep vole numbers down also...and pwabably wabbits.
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