GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In cold weather like we have had this past week, you are likely not thinking about making a trip to the apple orchard any time soon.
However, this is the exact kind of weather that apple and other fruit trees need for a good harvest later in the year. That's because deciduous fruit trees need a certain number of "chill hours" in order to be ready to bloom and produce fruit in the coming season.
So why is this the case, and how is the weather in West Michigan impacting our fruit trees? Let's take a look!
Why do fruit trees actually need cold weather?
The need for chill hours is actually a safety feature for fruit trees that prevents them from responding to sudden bursts of warm weather through the winter months.
Ed Robinette, from Robinette's Apple Haus and Winery, tells us that without this chill requirement, trees could start to bloom way too early.
Ed says, "A deciduous fruit tree, such as an apple or peach, or a cherry, has a certain minimum number of hours that it must be dormant before it starts to grow." He continued on, "So that is an important trigger. To prevent the tree from growing too early in the spring, or in the winter."
Ed added, "If there were no chilling requirement, that tree could start growing [early], and we don't want that to happen. So it's a built in safety mechanism for the tree to stay dormant long enough to get through a normal winter."
While some regions have had trouble reaching chill requirements thanks to climate change, Michigan is actually doing very well. Days with chill hours in our region have remained mostly stable through the last 50 years.
Since we've already hit our chill hours for this winter in West Michigan, Ed says what we need now is to avoid any late season winter blasts!
Ed told us, "If we get warm early, and we never freeze, we're fine, we'll grow fruit. But if we get started too early, and have a freeze event that kills our flowers, or even damages the fruit later in the season, then we would have difficulty."
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-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens
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