Is a fruitless spring around the corner?
Being a late bloomer isn’t all that bad, if you’re a fruit tree.
“The early blooming varieties took a hit this last weekend,” landscaper Mike Short said of the freeze at the end of February. “And we’re still at the beginning of March. This could happen again.”
It certainly could.
“Is there a word for weather-history myopia?,” joked arborist and master gardener Michael Janik. People are always going, ’Oh, it’s so much worse than [years prior].’ And it really isn’t.”
The Reno area’s many microclimates are basically overlords to our plant life, which is to say that neighbors on the same street—or hell, sometimes two all-but-identical trees in the same big yard—can have wildly different fruit yields from year to year.
On the whole, apricot blossoms have already bloomed and been shriveled by the latest cold spell, Janik said, and some plum-tree varieties were flowering by the first week of March. The latter usually sell as fruitless specimens anyway, however, because they almost always freeze again at the wrong time (or the right one, if you hate a plummy avalanche).
Plenty of apples will come through, Janik said, and Northern pears are another standby.
But “I don’t predict the weather,” he said with a chuckle, “and I don’t predict the stock market.”
Some factoids worth noting, though: Hidden Valley has an especially fine microclimate for local fruit production. And if you want great cold-hardy trees, Janik suggests varieties with the prefix “Har”—such as Hargrand apricots, for example. They hail from an agricultural station in Harrow, Ontario, which is obviously no stranger to biting frost. He also likes to tend a broad sampling of dwarf apple trees rather than rely on one or two big ones, so at least a few “make” every year.
Freezes can simply lead to ho-hum crops, too.
“Sometimes if it freezes on your blossoms, the tree will actually bloom again, but you don’t get as good fruits and you don’t get them as big because it takes a lot of energy out of the tree to bloom twice,” said Pamela Mayne of the Reno Gleaning Project (“Free Falling,” RN&R, Sept. 15, 2011). Mayne and her volunteers visit callers’ fruit-littered yards to gather all the produce they can find—donating the edible haul to folks in need and the semi-edible fare to a local pig farmer, who in turn brings pork to the food bank. Truly expired stuff is converted into ethanol and such.
You’ll never see a wholly fruitless year in Reno, Mayne explained, though lots of trees do “take a year off” between bouts of high production, then come back twice as strong as they would otherwise. “They’re just tired.”
That said, the gleaners often have far more food than they can donate anyway. “Honestly, in a big year we can’t give away the fruit,” she said. “We saturate these food banks, so even in a low year, I think we’ll still be able to provide for needy families.”
What’s more, “there’s still a lot of needy families who don’t recognize this as food,” Mayne said. “It breaks my heart to tell you that.”