East Michigan fruit update

Our late spring is welcomed by fruit growers across the region.

Weather

The fall of 2010 was certainly mild. Above normal temperatures continued well into November. Many tree fruit growers finished apple harvest early last fall due to a light crop and early harvest season. Therefore, many were able to get started on major pruning activities in the fall.

Our coldest winter temperatures at many farms across the region were relatively mild, with the exception of the Thumb region where some of our reporting stations had temperatures on January 23-24 that were -15 to -20 degrees. Overall the region had a good amount of snow cover the entire winter. Many tree fruit growers had to suspend pruning operations for a couple of months due to snow cover. In fact there are still some farms in the eastern part of the region that had enough snow from the winter weather that occurred on March 22-23 that they are still unable to get out into the orchard to either commence pruning or to do brush chopping operations.

This spring couldn’t be more different than the early spring of 2010 and 2009. Our season is running almost a week behind normal. We have accumulated only half the degree days as last season. These cooler than normal temperatures have been a good thing for fruit growers across the region.

I am concerned about low temperatures and possible damage to tree and small fruit flower buds which occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings (March 24, 25 and 26). While the southern part of the region had low temperatures in the range of 10 to 13 degrees, the Thumb had much colder lows. Lapeer had low temperatures those mornings of 3, 4 and 5 degrees respectively and Pigeon had temperatures of 1, 1, and 2 degrees respectively. The effect of these low temperatures on flower buds is difficult to tell at this time. If you look at some of the cold temperature literature for cold damage to fruit buds, most of the apple varieties can tolerate a temperature of 10 to 12 degrees at this time. Peaches on the other hand can begin to have bud kill (10 percent) at 15 degrees. So I suspect that there may have been some flower bud damage caused by these late season extreme cold temperatures. I will have to wait for a time to see whether or not damage occurred. I have cut some flower buds on peaches early this week, but it is too early to see this damage. I am also forcing some branches to check for damage. It will take about 10 to 14 days to tell whether or not there has been flower bud damage from this late season cold.

Our soils remain very wet across the region. Most farms are a long way away from having ground ready for planting of tree fruit and small fruit crops.

Southeast Michigan Growing Degree Day Totals for March 1 to March 29, 2011
Location GDD42 GDD45 GDD50
Commerce (Oakland) 24 17 9
Emmett (St Clair) 23 16 7
Flint (Genesee) 25 17 9
Lapeer (Lapeer) 26 18 10
Petersburg (Monroe) 37 26 14
Pigeon (Huron) 26 18 9
Romeo (Macomb) 15 10 5

Tree fruits

Apple buds are still dormant, with a just a few varieties beginning to show early signs of silver tip. I have not seen any apple varieties that are truly at silver tip as of yet. As mentioned earlier, many apple growers did not finish pruning during the winter and so they have either just commenced pruning again or are waiting for snow to melt before getting back to pruning activities. Based on early observations throughout the winter and spring, I would say that we have a nice crop of flower buds coming on our apples at this time.

Pear buds are tight.

Peaches had some very slight bud swell late last week and over the weekend. Again as I mentioned in the weather section, I am concerned about potential bud damage from the March 24-26 cold events.

Sweet cherry flower buds are slightly swollen.

Tart cherry buds are tight.

Japanese plums have a very small amount of swelling and European plum buds are still very tight.

Small fruits

Strawberry growth has not begun for the most part across the region, however in just a few of the spots where I checked underneath the straw mulch, I did see a few leaves that look like they are ready to begin to grow. Where snow cover was constant throughout the winter, strawberries look to be in fine shape in terms of their overwintering. I would anticipate that we are at least two weeks away from uncovering strawberries, but time will tell.

Raspberries remain dormant for summer fruiting types. I have seen just one or two canes emerging from fall bearing raspberries. I am starting to see some cane tip die back due to winter damage.

Blueberry bud scales have just begun to swell a bit with pruning continuing on the blueberries.

Grapes remain dormant. I am concerned about some of the French hybrid grape varieties that I have seen over the last two weeks that appear to have a fair amount of winter damage or die back of terminal branches.

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