Chill withers fruit crops

Foothill growers say freeze damage varies
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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The stormy weather has growers keeping their eyes on the sky. But it isn’t necessarily the snow that’s a concern. For fruit trees, which have just started to bloom in the foothills, damage can happen when the temperature drops to the mid-20s for an extended period, according to Jim Brenner, owner of Brenner Ranch in Newcastle. “The cherries, peaches, apricots and plums will get bacterial canker,” Brenner said Wednesday. “I’ve been seeing signs of it already with these cold mornings.” The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office issued a winter storm warning cautioning foothill residents about possible snowfall at 1,500 feet Friday and 1,000 feet Friday night. Temperatures are expected to drop to lows around 24 degrees Friday night and 25 degrees Saturday night, according to the weather service. The impact is especially evident on young trees. “What it does is kill the bark and you can already see that happening,” he said. Cherries and apricot trees are particularly vulnerable, but peaches and plums can get it, too, he added. Extreme cold will damage or kill citrus as well. Brenner said he’s already lost a couple of lemon trees in the past couple of weeks because of the cold. At Ikeda’s in Bowman, owner Glen Ikeda said the temperature is particularly crucial during the next couple of weeks during the early bloom period in the fruit orchards. “Snow can bring brush off some petals, but if the stamens and pestles of the flowers freeze, there’s no fruit,” he said. Ikeda said he sees freezes every two or three years. But the extent of the damage varies. “If the freeze is below 28 degrees and it’s probably for 12 hours or longer is when you get the most damage,” he explained. He’s seen it very severe. He lost a whole crop of peaches during a cold spell in February about 12 years ago, he said. “The only thing we can do is turn on the irrigation,” he said. “Water comes out at 38 degrees so it brings up the temperature around the trees one or two degrees. We’ll start (the irrigation) from (Thursday night) on (through the freeze).” Moisture provides some level of protection. But added to the freeze threat is the fact that the ground had time to dry out during the two weeks of spring-like temperatures at the end of January and early February. “It has been dry after that warm spell,” Brenner said. “(Then we had) the north wind, so the humidity isn’t there.” Snow is more of a rarity in Newcastle, which is at approximately 950-foot elevation, compared to Auburn’s 1,200 to 1,500 feet. “In 30-something years, I’ve seen it a couple of times,” Brenner said. Reach Gloria Young at