Cherry buds sustain light freeze damage

Early morning sunlight shines on pruners in Mt. View Orchard in East Wenatchee, Wash., on Feb. 13, as temperatures fell after a warm streak. Buds on these Kanzi apple trees were fine but farther south some cherry buds were damaged by freeze.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Cherry buds from Quincy south to the Tri-Cities received a light thinning while apricots took a harder hit from a mid-February freeze that followed a streak of warm weather.

That’s a preliminary assessment from B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers and the Washington State Fruit Commission, both in Yakima.

“So far, most folks assume they still have a full cherry crop. I think apricots, peaches and nectarines in the early districts were hit the hardest,” Thurlby said, adding some growers in the Tri-Cities and up the Snake River Valley believe they’ve lost 20 percent of apricot buds.

Apples and pears are more cold hearty than apricots and cherries. Everything north from Chelan is fine because the region is so far behind Wenatchee and the south in degree days (the accumulation of daytime temperatures above 43 degrees since Jan. 1), Thurlby said.

Apricots are a minor crop compared to cherries.

“A big crop of cots is 7,000 tons. A normal crop is closer to 5,500 tons and I would guess this year’s will be 5,000 or a little less,” Thurlby said.

Cherries probably took a more widespread light thinning of less than 5 percent, rather than spotty damage, he said. Loss is really close to negligible but could have been worse had the warm period lasted any longer before the freeze, he said.

A full crop would be 22 million to 23 million, 20-pound boxes while last year’s record 26.4-million-box crop was abnormally high due to perfect pollination weather, he said. There were more five to seven cherries per bud last year versus what looks like a normal one to three this season, he said.

The warm weather ran from Jan. 24 through Feb. 8 with Pasco 10 degrees above normal and then 20 degrees above normal for a couple days, said Nicholas Loyd, meteorologist at the Washington State University AgWeatherNet in Prosser.

The region high was 69 degrees in Yakima on Feb. 8. The cold snap took Yakima’s nighttime low to 11 on Feb. 23. Regional temperatures averaged 15 degrees below normal from Feb. 19 to 23, Loyd said.

It was the warmest early warm spell since 2005 and has set up a long frost season, Thurlby said. Growers used a lot of wind machines and propane heaters to warm buds during the freeze, he said.

“A grower in Selah, using fans and heating, had interior orchard temperatures of 15 degrees and felt 13 was kill. If guys were heating they were probably perfectly fine,” Thurlby said.

John Doebler, owner of the state’s earliest cherry orchard in Mattawa, said he lost 3 to 5 percent of his Chelan cherry buds and 2 percent of his Bings.

“It’s awfully early. I hate to be losing anything, but I’m not losing sleep over it,” Doebler said. “We ran wind machines and burned our fair share of propane.”

He said he finished winter pruning on time because of less lowland snow than last year.

Scott McDougall, president of McDougall & Sons in Wenatchee, said he had minimal site-specific cherry damage in Mattawa.

Brenda Thomas, president of Orchard View Farms in The Dalles, Ore., said it’s been a great winter for getting work done and that the company is on or ahead of schedule on pruning.

“We possibly have some damage on early blocks (lowland orchards) but everything else looks fine,” she said.

Kevin Corliss, vice president of viticulture in Patterson for Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, said wine grape buds are fine because they lag behind tree fruit.

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