WENATCHEE, Wash. — Central Washington fruit trees are seven to 14 days behind normal bud development because of prolonged cold in February and into the first few days of March, growers say.
It can mean shortened frost risk of two to three weeks instead of a more normal four to six weeks, says Michael Roche, owner of Roche Fruit in Yakima.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “But if we get warm weather, buds can catch up quickly.”
Pears and apples aren’t as susceptible to frost damage as cherries and plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines.
Late bloom can mean late apple varieties such as Cripps Pink, Fuji and Granny Smith don’t mature in time for harvest before mid-November freezes and become crop loss.
But late bloom can also mean better fruit quality because trees have had better dormancy, said David Douglas, president of Douglas Fruit Co., Pasco.
Buds are at least 10 days late in Pasco, he said.
Plums, apricots, peaches and nectaries are first to bloom followed by cherries, pears and apples. Full bloom varies by variety of each fruit and by geographic location.
An industry benchmark for decades has been Red Delicious apple trees at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.
They were at green tip, a beginning stage, on April 2. They reached full bloom April 28 last year and likely will be later than that this year. But it depends largely on the amount and degree of warm weather in the next few weeks. The 93-year full bloom average at the site is May 4 and could be later than that this year. The latest was May 16, 1922. The earliest was a tie of April 9 in 2015 and 2016.
Timing of bloom is important because it determines placement of bee hives for pollination and pre- and post-bloom sprays for insects and disease.
Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, Brewster, said he’s tested buds and found no damage from the prolonged cold. Cherries and apples will be later blooming, there’s potential for big and compressed crops of both, he said.
2012 was a big crop and it was a late, cold spring.
“We are colder and later than 2012,” Gebbers said, adding a shortened growing season could mean smaller fruit.
Gebbers Farms is a large grower of thousands of acres in Okanogan County, the northern-most fruit growing part of the state.
Beside slowing buds, the cold, snowy February delayed pruning.
“We’re a bit behind, but not much and will catch up,” Gebbers said.
Miles Kohl, CEO of Allan Bros. Fruit Inc., Naches, said his company also is catching up on pruning and is now switching to planting, which also was delayed by cold and snow. He said the company was able to get a lot of pruning done during the more mild and relatively snowless November, December and January.
Allan Bros. operates 3,500 acres of mostly apples, cherries and wine grapes from the Yakima Valley to Royal City.
Roche Fruit manages 2,500 acres of tree fruit from the Tri-Cities to Quincy.
“We were a little behind on pruning because of the snow and cold, but will be okay. I’m not worried,” Roche said.
He said he likes to be done pruning at the end of March but is running a week to 10 days behind.