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Fruit crops blooming despite recent cold spells


By Justin Walker

Texas fruits should have a good year despite a rough start, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Several crops—such as peaches, figs, pears and strawberries—had to fight freezing temperatures last month, but those that survived are on track to have good sets, Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist, said.

“I always like to say, ‘I’m cautiously optimistic’ when things look good,” he said. “The overall story is that we will have a fruit crop and likely a good one barring any unforeseen calamities.”

Some varieties did experience losses during the recent cold spell, especially early-season crops.

“A lot of low chill varieties just got smoked by the cold,” he said. “There were likely instances where low chill varieties that bloomed early probably lost their entire crop. Young fruit and flowers are the most sensitive to the cold.”

Some areas saw temperatures drop below freezing for two consecutive nights, Stein said. Crops in those regions had to deal with temperatures as low as 22 degrees for multiple hours.

“They probably did okay the first day because it was cloudy and windy, but the next day was colder and still,” he said. “A little wind actually helps because there will be pockets of warmer air. Trees don’t react to wind chill. It’s the temperatures and the exposure time that gets them.”

Many Hill Country growers are feeling optimistic following the freeze, including Jimmy Decker, owner of Decker Orchards in Stonewall.

Decker’s peach crop wasn’t impacted as much he feared during the cold weather. Open blossoms were lost, but many varieties were still in bud, which protected the crop.

“We almost can’t believe that we still have a crop, but the crop appears to be—at this point—a really strong crop,” Decker said.

The quantity and quality of peaches should be similar to last year, he said. While the freeze did take away some of the early peaches, it doesn’t really impact the quality of the crop.

“Really, all it does is impact quantity,” Decker said. “Any of the peaches that survive a freeze have the same taste they always have. They’ll have size, and they’ll have the flavor and the shelf life as they would in a normal year.”

It’s possible the freezing weather actually helped growers by thinning out varieties, Stein said.

There were some losses to strawberry sets near Poteet, but growers should still have plenty of fruit.

Wine grape growers who waited to prune vines also came out ahead, Stein said.

“With strawberries, there were young fruit on the plants and the freeze got some of them,” he said. “Grapes did well unless they pruned too early, which stimulates growth and early bloom. But most established growers wait, so I don’t expect much damage in that crop.”

Growing conditions seem positive in East and Central Texas, but other areas, such as the Winter Garden area, are in need of rain.

“Pecans look good with strong catkin (male flower) numbers, which has me optimistic about fruit sets,” he said. “So, everything is shaping up well. We just need some rain here and there and to monitor for typical disease and pest issues, and 2019 should be a good year all around.”

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