Are your early-blooming flowers safe?

Zoe Greszler • Mar 5, 2017 at 10:17 PM

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It’s been a warm winter that has set record highs in Norwalk, much to many people’s delight. But the local flowers and fruit trees might be less happy.

The warm weather, followed by somewhat sharp drop in temperatures, might prove to be bad for area flowers and fruits, according to some in the community. 

“Yes, we are concerned,” said Ben Gammie, co-owner of Quarry Hill Orchards and Winery.

In 2014 and 2015, this area experienced harsh winters that saw record lows and large amounts of snowfall at times. Grape vines and certain fruit trees were damaged or killed.

Last year, a very mild winter concluded with an April snowstorm that devastated certain flowers and fruit trees.

“Yet again, this is going to be the fourth year in a row we’ve had unseasonably unpredictable weather. The warm weather does a couple things for us. One, apples needs a certain amount of chilling hours to reset, so to speak, to give us a good bloom. I don’t know if this year there has been enough warm to compensate for the the lack of chilling hours,” Gammie said.

“The other concern is because we have spring breaking in February this year, the trees right now will be fine. The trees are still subject to fluke cold fronts that move in — that’s the concern. We’re so early into the spring. We will inevitably always get some snow and cool temperatures again.”

Gammie knows this from experience.

“Last year on April 10, we had 11 degrees here on the farm and that took away most of our peaches and some of our honey crisp (apples) and other early-blooming apples,” he said.

“The more that the trees take their ‘winter coats’ off, the more exposure they have to those fluke cold fronts. … Certainly, as we’ve become all too familiar with in the last three years, it could completely wipe out our crop like it did last year when we only had 25 percent of our produce,” Gammie said. “We found just four peaches — one, two, three, four peaches on all of our 32 acres. Price-wise and supply-wise, we’re fortune enough that we have a good community of farmers and we all help each other.”

Should things get desperate, there are a few potential remedies in the bag, Gammie said.

“If your read the Old Farmer’s Almanac, with unseasonably warm weather, all it takes is two hours of cold weather — two — to complete change your harvest.

“That’s when you look at the forecast,” Gammie continued. “If you have some inclement weather coming, there are all kind of old wive’s tales. Some guys will light small fires, some have wind mills to create what’s called a temperature inversion to pull the warm air down by the trees. Some use certain chemicals you can apply to trick the trees. You can do a little rain dance and say your prayers, beg whatever pagan god you might happen to admire. All of those have equally dubious results, though.”

A Master Gardner since 1998, Peggy Case agrees.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” she said. “You might put a blanket over your forsythias if you think they're going to be ready to bloom but it’s going to be cold. But the ground is pretty warm actually and you probably will just have to trust that it will be warm enough to keep the flowers safe.”

As far as flowers go, what’s safe and what do you have to worry about when a freeze comes?

“Anything that blooms early like fruit trees or ornamental trees or forsythias — especially the woody things — if their buds already formed, the warm weather might cause them to open or get close to blooming,” Case said. “The cold weather then might freeze and kill the bloom, so it might not open and bloom. You might not have a flower or fruit from that plant for the year.

“Bulbs, though, originated in countries where there wasn't a lot of good soils and it was somewhat cold,” she added. “Bulbs live under ground and are able to bloom in cold weather. So cold weather doesn’t bother them. That’s your tulips and daffodils. Anything with bulbs and that’s hearty, won’t be effected.”

When it comes to fruit trees, all is not lost if a freeze kills one farmer’s produce.

“Inevitably, someone has fruit,” Gammie said.

“We work together as a team,” he added. “Regionally, you can usually find fruit. It’s a collaborative effort. We’ll be talking with other growers around the area. ‘What are you doing to help your trees? How are things going?’ We just bounce ideas off of each other too. We lean on our neighbors in situations like this and any time of the year. You might not realize we all very much work together.”

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