Protecting your fruit trees during Winter is vital for healthy tree growth. We have over 600 acres of fruit trees in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area with our headquarters based in Hood River, Oregon. Temperatures drop well below freezing during this time. My top three tips involve understanding your region, being mindful of dropping temperatures and protecting your trees in extreme weather. Follow this advice for successful farming practices during the coldest months of the year.
1) Understand Your Region
Be thoughtful to the climate and region where you plant your tree(s). You can grow a fruit tree in most regions, but some require you to pot the tree and to bring it inside to survive the cold. Harsh winter climates can be more difficult to sustain your trees throughout these months. Research the type of tree you would like to plant or have planted to better understand how it will fare during the cold. When the inevitable drop in temperatures begin, how quickly the temperatures change will have the greatest effect on your trees.
2) Be Mindful of Dropping Temperatures
Fruit trees do best when temperatures gradually get colder. Pear and apple varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest can sustain low temperatures as long as there is a slow transition. When temperatures drop quickly, it puts your tree at risk. Three years ago in Oregon, we had a 48 hour period where our temperatures went from the mid 50’s all the way to 6 degrees. This damaged our fruit buds and killed some of our younger trees. Check weather forecasts ahead of time and prepare for dropping temperatures by protecting your tree with water or insulation
3) Protect Trees in Extreme Weather
If your climate drops to below freezing, I have seen people protect their tree by spraying it with water and letting it freeze around each branch. If you completely cover the tree with water, the ice will serve as an insulator. For example, if your tree is enveloped in ice it will hold a 32 degrees temperature whereas the outside temperature may be as low as 8 degrees.
You can also focus your efforts on the roots of the trees. Others have found success by placing insulation around the trunk of the tree as well as on the ground above the root system. The roots typically reach from the trunk to the outermost limb, by putting insulation down you can help to keep the roots safe from subzero temperatures.
Surviving Winter and Seeing Your First Bloom
Once the freezing temperatures of Winter pass, excitement is in the air as the bloom, which is the calix end of the fruit, start to bud. This typically happens in March and the buds begin breaking at the beginning of April. At The Fruit Company, our pear trees are usually into full bloom by the third week in April. Bees are busy pollinating the flowers during this time and weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest greatly enhance this pollination. Many farmers believe that the perfect temperatures for pollination are around 65-70 degrees with high humidity.
Follow my top three tips for keeping your fruit trees healthy during the coldest months of the year. Know your region, be mindful of dropping temperatures and protect your trees in extreme weather. Wishing you the best of luck this season!
Scott Webster is President & CEO of both Webster Orchards, Inc and TheFruitCompany.com. Webster Orchards has been growing premium fresh fruit in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area since 1942, starting with Scott’s grandfather Roy Webster. The Fruit Company, an online gift retailer has been packing and shipping beautiful fruit gifts nationwide since 1999. Both headquarters are located in the Hood River Valley, nestled between Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.