Sudden freeze may pose threat for early flowers

Kristi King,

WASHINGTON — You’re going to need your winter coat Tuesday morning. Areas to the north and west of D.C. are under a freeze watch. Temperatures could dip into the 20s.

Most plants in your garden should survive just fine, but if you put any plants outside, you’ll want to bring them back in. Fruit trees might need special attention.

In Winchester, Va., the president of Fruit Hill Orchard, Diane Kearns, tells WTOP some of her orchard’s peach trees are already blooming. And at Marker-Miller orchard, also in Winchester, some peach trees are past the bloom stage and already have tiny fruit.

John Marker, who owns Marker-Miller Orchards with his wife Carolyn, says the season is about four weeks ahead of schedule. Plum trees are almost finished blooming while cherry trees and some varieties of apple are starting. Marker says a good portion of his crop is “freeze susceptible.”

All he can do is pray, Marker says.

“And hope the wind keeps blowing and temps don’t get below 30,” he says. Wind helps keep frost from settling on trees and plants.

Not everyone is worried about the freezing weather. Wade Butler, farm manager at Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, Md., says it’s early in the spring and he doesn’t typically anticipate his last freeze until the beginning of May.

“Thirty two degrees is certainly not out of the ordinary,” Butler said. “In fact, everything else has been out of the ordinary with all this warm temperature.”

The flowering fruit trees at your home may be in danger if you’re in an area affected by the freeze. Fortunately, there are some options to protect them.

“If these flowers freeze at this stage, it kills the flower and no fruit will develop,” says WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath. “Cover them with old, thin bed sheets, not heavy material like plastic.”

McGrath says you can also consider stringing up old incandescent holiday lights for warmth.

As for spring bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, McGrath says cold temperatures will only stretch the lifespan of their flowers.

“They have experienced much worse in the springtime in their native mountains in Turkey, Afghanistan and Russia,” he said.

Flower buds on Azaleas and Rhododendrons also should be fine.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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