Cold Temperatures Needed To Ensure Plentiful Summer Produce

Oak Hill, WV (WOAY-TV): While many of you would love to save money on your winter heating bill, it’s important to keep in mind we need the cold weather to have sufficient produce come next summer.

Farmers have already produced their yields for the year. Now, like clockwork, these fruit trees such as this apple tree behind me, go into a state of dormancy or fall asleep because they are responding to the lack of daylight after mid-September.

One of the crucial times of the year for these fruit trees is winter. Why, you might ask? They need to stay asleep through the cold spells each winter to produce yields next summer.

In two weeks, plants and fruit trees will be entering a full dormancy or sleep mode. However, if we have a stretch of high temperatures reaching a crucial point, as WVU Consumer Horticultural Specialist, Myra Danilovich, explains the warm weather can backfire on the fruit trees.

Danilovich says, “That period when they’re (fruit trees) just getting ready to go into dormancy. If you have a prolonged period of time with the temperatures of 70, 75 degrees or higher temperatures, they will restart the growth.”

Another critical piece of the puzzle is for Mother Nature not to fool these fruit trees. Come January and February, those two months are the critical months where the timing of the warm weather is crucial to their survival.

Danilovich says, “With the onset of the favorable growing conditions, the fruit trees are waking up; it’s time to wake up. They start to pump the water and you see the root system is active as long as the ground doesn’t freeze.”

Danilovich says, “As I said, after they have met the chill requirement and you have the onset of the favorable weather conditions, they’re just going to start to push the water and and the buds are going to start to swell. At this point, the fruit trees are going to start breaking those scales and show tips, silver tips and whatnot. This is the vulnerable stage. This means that there is water in those buds. If the temperature drops suddenly, guess what, you’re going to have all frozen buds.”

Once the fruit tree, responds to increasing amounts of daylight and warmer temperatures, whether it’s the middle of January or early part of April, it’s awake and ready to go for the season.

Most fruit trees in West Virginia need a full month to 54 days where the average temperature is between 35 and 45 degrees before they would start budding during a warm snap. As Myra mentioned, this typically happens by late January,

Even in our warmest winters from Bluefield to Beckley and Lewisburg. The average temperature has been cooler than the top end of the chill requirement…45 degrees.

The trends in our region have been favorable for fruit trees to stay dormant in winter, but west of our region along I-79 and to the east along I-81, it’s a different story. Both Charleston and Roanoke have seen a drastic reduction in wind chill hours, while in more recent times, Bluefield has seen a more sustainable cold weather pattern.

As we go through the winter and early spring, our StormWatch 4 weather team will keep you abreast of any major thaws and cold snaps that are in the forecast. In the meantime, click here for our 2023-2024 winter outlook for southern West Virginia forecast.

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