It's winter time and avocados and other subtropicals are prone to frost damage. Little trees especially that haven't developed a canopy that can trap heat are the most prone. So it gets cold and all the orchard looks fine, but there's one tree that doesn't look right and in a couple of days it really stands out.
Here's an example of a year old tree that turned brown and it actually looks like it was doing better than the trees surrounding. It's bigger and has a fuller canopy..... or at least it did.
But there's all the symptoms of frost damage - bronzed leaves and dead tips.
A week after the cold weather, there is already sunburn damage on the exposed stems. See the brown spots on the upper fork? That will soon turn all brown and dry up.
This is still a healthy tree with green stems, in spite of the burned leaves. Now is the time to protect the tree from sunburn damage. This is what can kill the little tree. Time to white wash it.
Why did it happen to this one tree? Maybe it was a little bigger and needed more water than the surrounding trees. Maybe sitting on a rock and didn't have enough rooting volume for water. Maybe a touch of root rot (although the roots looked pretty good even for winter time). And there were ground squirrels in the area. Easy to bklamne them.
Listen to the sound of winter frost control
And when freeze damage gets extreme
So, there are peach trees right now that are flower-less and leaf-less. Wisteria which should have flowered in February is bare. The Royal apricot next door has no flower. The Lombardy poplars and birch in Oxnard don't have leaves. Spring is here, grass is growing, but many deciduous trees are still leafless and haven't flowered? What is going on?
Deciduous fruit trees and many landscape trees like poplar, birch, willow and sycamore, etc. must go through a dormant period each winter in preparation for producing fruit and leaves the following spring and summer. This rest period, also known as a chilling period, is directly related to winter temperatures. For many varieties of trees, the most efficient temperature for chilling is 45°F, with little additional chilling effect at temperatures below 32°F. Brief warm spells in winter have a negative effect — temperatures above 70°F for four or more hours offset any chilling that happened in the previous 24-36 hours.
Once chilling is complete, the trees prepare to wake up from dormancy and bud after a certain amount of warming takes place. The amount of required warming is cumulative, measured by counting the number of degrees each day above a threshold temperature, usually 40°F. This cumulative warming, combined with how well the tree met its chilling requirement over the winter, determines whether a tree buds early or late in the spring.
Tables and charts have been developed for different chilling requirements of fruit trees. The number of hours needed at or below 45°F varies with the type of tree:
- Peach: 400 to 1050 hours
- Apple: 800 to 1100 hours
- Cherry: 1000+ hours
But in coastal Southern California, those hours are never achieved. You need to go to Santa Ynez to get close to those hours. More typically in the Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo area, the chilling hours below 45 are close to 200 and lower in many years. Some years there is more, some years less. How temperatures above 70 affect chilling aren't always clear. As a result there are several different ways to account for chilling and none of them work very well for the coast./
Fortunately, we have low-chill varieties of many fruit trees that will produce with lower chilling. So ‘Anna' apple and ‘Royal' apricot do well, and many landscape trees are adapted to the lower winter chilling along the coast and do well. Low chill blueberries thrive to the point that in many years, they don't even go dormant.
This year the warm, cold, warm, cold pattern has mixed trees up. There are some deciduous trees that are doing fine, while others still have not flowered and leafed out. The mix of temperatures is not following the traditional patterns used to calculate chilling requirement. The trees are following their own pattern.
In the last several years in Southern California, winters have seemed shorter and milder, resulting in earlier springs. Trees that have flourished in a location could have decreasing yields in the future, and the favorable locations to grow these fruit trees could shift.
The Fruit and Nut Center at UC Davis has a link to the CIMIS system operated by the CA Dept of Water Resources. The site has various methods of calculating chilling hours, none of them seem adequate though for describing what is happening in the landscape today in Southern California
Look at it to see if you can see a new way of understanding deciduous tree response to the weather.
Just got a call recently that 'Valencia' oranges are splitting. This normally happens to ripe 'Navels' that are over mature and get erratic winter irrigation, especially during drought. In this case, the 'Valencias' are advanced in maturity because of the warm winter, probably advanced by two months. Again erratic watering has probably lead to this splitting.
What a crazy winter.
Splitting coastal 'Valencia' oranges in April, 2018
photo: Peaches without adequate chilling.
It is that time of year and we should be alert to threat of freezing weather and damage to trees. Last winter was one of the warmest on record, but there was still a sneak cold blast around the New Year that caused some problems in some areas. Wet winters tend to have lower frost threats, and even though wet is forecast for this winter, that rain is not forecast until late in January. That still leaves December and early January which historically when most of our damaging frosts occur. Fox Weather on the CA Avocado Commission is forecasting some cold weather coming up, so growers need to be prepared for the worst.
Here are some links to frost information, preparing for frost and managing frost damage to trees.
A Frost Primer
The forecast is for north winds, which often means cold, dry air and often with winds. Winds mean no inversion and no warm air that can be introduced at ground level to warm trees. If this occurs, running a wind machine can make the damage worse. Wind machines and orchard heaters work on the principle of mixing that warmer air higher up – 20-100 or so feet higher than ground level which has colder air. When temperatures drop, the air is dry (wet-bulb temp below 28 deg F) and there is no inversion, running a wind machine can just stir up cold air and cause worse conditions (freeze-drying). It's better to not run the machine. The only thing left to do is to run the microsprinklers during the day so that the water can absorb the day's heat. Then turn the water off before sunset so that evaporative cooling from the running water isn't accentuated. Then when temperatures drop near 32 at night and the dewpoint is much below that, it's time to start the water again and let it run until sunrise (when risk is less). Running water works even if the water freezes. This is due to the release of heat when water goes from liquid to frozen state. This 1-2 degrees can mean the difference between frost damage and no damage. Also, ice on fruit and leaves can insulate the fruit. As the ice melts at the surface of the plant, it releases heat, protecting the plants. If there is not sufficient water to run the whole orchard, it's best to pick out the irrigation blocks that are the coldest or the ones you definitely want to save and run the water there continuously. Running the water and turning it off during the night to irrigate another block can lead to colder temperatures in both blocks.
Keep warm this winter.
Several calls have come in from growers lately about yellow avocado and citrus trees. the yellowing is most common on the late summer flush leaves or can affect the whole canopy on young trees. In severe cases leaves fall. This happens going into winter after a warm fall when growing conditions are good. During the winter, the root systems become depleted of stored starch and die.
During winter, trees go into what is called a “quiescent” state, a version of dormancy found in subtropical tree crops. This is a resting mode that protects them to a certain degree from frost damage. There is not much that can be done in a field setting until temperatures warm up and the trees begin growing again in late winter/early spring. As the temperatures increase, the trees gradually recover and the foliage re-greens.
Winter Yellows can be exacerbated in years when we do not have leaching rains to remove salts from the root zone. And it can also be more severe when we have those years when winter rains just never seem to stop and rootzones become waterlogged. We may never see that time again.
Photo by Greg Moulds
Evaluating Damage to Baby Trees Requires Patience
Earlier temperatures and forecasted temperatures do not appear to be cold enough to freeze baby trees in the citrus belt. Time will tell. Semi-dormant wood in the winter looks dry even when it is healthy, so any final evaluation should be conducted in the warmth of spring. With warmer temperatures, frozen bark will peel easily from the young trunk and the degree of damage easily estimated. A tree, even those frozen down to the top of the wrap, can make an amazing recovery. Growers, in the summer after the 1990 freeze had some success budding onto the rootstocks that remained after the scions were killed by frost.
It may be better to replace a tree if it is still alive under the trunk wrap but badly damaged. Badly frozen trees regrow fairly slowly, and often are not able to resist pathogens that grow into the wood such as fungal Fusarium species causing dry root rot. Slow growing Fusarium in the wood can take up to 10 or 15 years to kill a tree.
Badly Frozen Young Trees
Badly frozen fruit may start dropping from the tree shortly after the freeze, but other fruit may hang on the tree longer than unfrozen fruit. Many growers resist picking or dropping frozen fruit in that it is another expense, at a time of little income. Reasons for dropping the fruit, even if it cannot be sold for juice, include:
Ensuring that the frozen fruit does not interfere with spring fruit set. Navel oranges, for example, will not set as much fruit if last season’s fruit remains on the tree.
Old frost-damaged fruit may harbor fungal pathogens that may infect the new crop, such as clear rot (Penicillium sp.), tear staining (Colletotrichum sp), brown rot (Phytophthora sps.) or Septoria organisms.
Avoiding having to separate last year’s partially frozen fruit from the new crop at harvest next year.
Preventing partially frozen fruit from providing habitat for insect pests.