Warm winter weather worries some plant owners: 'Trees are budding'

Budding tree - KATU image.jpg

After several days with high temperatures in the 50's and overnight lows nowhere near freezing for much of the northwest, it almost feels more like spring than winter.

That feeling makes some people a little nervous. They think plants and trees may sprout and bloom too soon, making them more susceptible to a late-season freeze.

Becky Lacy in the The Dalles is one of those people.

"The trees are budding here, this is bad," says Lacy. "Everyone likes the warmer weather, but it's dangerous to the orchards and the fruit crop. If the trees start budding and there's a hard freeze, that can kill the whole tree."

And she's right, but the growers we talked to around the the region today say it's not time to worry yet.

Chuck at Sherwood Orchards says there's one early leaf apple tree that started budding, but it's supposed to do that. The other 2,000 trees are still dormant, so they're not in danger of frost damage.

Managers at Polehn Orchards in The Dalles say their trees are dormant as well. But they're keeping their fingers crossed that a late frigid dose of weather doesn't mess up the schedule.

At Shorty's Nursery in Vancouver, help-and-advice guy Rob Sculley says most plants are a lot tougher and even smarter than they get credit for.

"People start wondering when they see bulbs popping out of the ground, roses sprouting new growth. The plants know exactly the pace that they need to grow. They’re adapted to this climate. They’re already hardened off. If they see a little bit of change in the weather, you’re going to see some growth, the sap will start flowing, but it will happen at a rate that’s safe generally," said Sculley.

Sculley says it's the broad-leaf evergreen plants that can really be banged up by a blast of winter, because they lose moisture through the leaves and can't get more from the frozen ground.

"They can take a beating in the cold. We could go back into a freezing spell, it doesn’t have a chance to drop the foliage and go dormant, it’s exposed constantly. Those are the ones you may want to think about spraying an anti-transparent, a coating over the leaf, or put a physical barrier, a frost cloth or a sheet over them, something that breathes that can keep the wind off of them."

But don't use a plastic sheet, Sculley warns, it can have just the opposite effect of what you're hoping for.

"We don’t want to put any plastic because if the sun comes out and warms up the air, that will cook down the foliage in there, it will heat up pretty fast. We don’t want to heat the plant up, we simply want to prevent moisture loss on the leaves. We’re not changing the temperature, we just want to physically protect the foliage from burning."


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