Fruit Growing in 2014- What Happened?
With the growing season of 2014 now over, some may be pondering their lack of success this year in getting a good yield or even getting a crop on some of their fruits. What happened?
If this was your experience in growing fruits during 2014, you are not alone. I too had similar results on many of my home fruit crops. This issue was not just an odd occurrence in our area (SE WI), but happened in the states of MN, IL, IN, KY & PA too from what I have heard. Let’s say that, for once, I am very happy I was not a commercial fruit grower this year. Tough times indeed.
Our past winter of 2014 was extremely nasty. We had very high winds and cold temperatures to the degree we have not felt in many years. We had low temperatures of -18 for 1.5 weeks. Enough to do considerable damage to many fruits and other ornamental plants.
In the case of fruits, part of the problem can be explained on our odd weather last winter. Another factor in that equation was what occurred in 2012/2013. During 2012 we experienced very late spring frosts which wiped out or severely reduced the fruit crop. That year was followed by a huge fruit crop in 2013. Many fruit trees set so much fruit in 2013 that they needed to be thinned heavily to allow for better fruit size and not cause a reduction in flowers for the following year (biennial bearing).
If you did not thin your overloaded fruit trees in 2013, this may have been the reason in having little or no fruit on it for the 2014 season. However, more is at play here. Some of my apple trees were thinned heavily in 2013 yet bore just a handful of apples in 2014. Others who grow fruits around here reported the same thing or even no fruit on certain varieties. It seems many factors were involved in the problem. Never an easy answer.
When I pruned my fruit trees in March of 2014, all seemed well except for one of my tart cherry varieties. It had some tip die-back on the western side of the tree only. First time I ever had winter injury issue on that variety.
Apples: At tight cluster stage, I noticed that some of my trees only had 2-7 flower clusters on the whole tree! My Red Delicious had lots of flowers on the South side but very few on the North half of the tree. McIntosh was the only variety in my apple collection that bore a heavy crop. The total apple crop was down for this year.
Pears: They acted weird as Summercrisp burst into bloom in May on the bottom ½ of the tree only. The top half still dormant. The Bartlett pear nearby was also fully dormant. Two weeks later the Bartlett and the rest of the Summercrisp bloomed but very sparsely. I got enough pears to eat this year and mighty nice sized fruits since so few on the tree. Not enough to fill up my canning jars however.
Tart cherries: All 4 of my tart cherry varieties bloomed but sparsely. Very light crop this year.
Peaches: Not winter hardy to -18 so all dead! I will replant next spring.
Sweet cherry: My tree was loaded with fruit buds and seemed fine when I pruned in March but the flowers never opened. All dead. The tree leafed out fine in May then slowly died from the top down. Delayed winter injury finally showing up. I will have to replant.
Grapes: No problem with the seeded varieties. All seedless varieties were dead to the ground. Seedless grapes cannot take -18 winter temperatures. Luckily the roots were alive and they suckered from base of stem. Since propagated own root, I cut the original trunk down and staked one root sucker to a stake and pruned out the rest. They grew back 5’ by the end of the season.
Raspberries: By mid May the July bearing raspberries had not leafed out. After scratching the bark, I found the floricanes were all dead. Luckily, the roots were alive and they flushed new primocanes. No crop in 2014 but hope for 2015.
I feel very lucky as I did get a lot of nice plums and concord grapes. Also enough apples to eat, freeze or can but not so many to give away. When I visited some local orchards near me, I found one orchardist had lost all his Jonathan apple trees and possibly all his September Wonder Fuji apple trees to winter injury. U-pick operations were hurt as so many apple varieties bore such a light crop.
Those selling fruit trees in spring 2015 should do well as home orchardists replace their losses from this year if they have not done so already. We sold out fast in spring 2014 on many varieties and should do so again next year. Yes we do take orders in advance so we can book orders now for spring 2015 and reserve fruit trees for you.
Perseverance. Plant people are a hardy lot. The good times will come. But only if we plan for them and replant if needed. We can’t pick fruit in the future if we don’t have trees in the ground. Now is the time for planning before the next growing season arrives.
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.