News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 15, 2014

April cold snap not expected to have big impact on fruit, flower crops

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It may be spring, but this morning’s forecast temperatures in the mid to upper 20s will bring chilly memories of a harsh winter.

These cold morning temperatures are not out of the ordinary for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service, and they come early enough that they are not likely to damage crops such as fruit trees.

“Right now, we are at tight cluster on the [apple] buds, and at 27 degrees, we have potential to lose 10 percent of the crop,” said Mary Ditzler, who along with her husband, Mauri, own Ditzler Orchard, about 10 miles north of Terre Haute, 1 mile east of U.S. 41.

“We thin 50 percent of the [apple] buds off most year, so that 10 percent is not critical to us at all. The [buds] are not at a real tender age right now. Certainly at 24 degrees, there would be more concern,” Ditzler said. The thinning is needed to create larger apples and allow a good crop to return the following year, she added.

The orchard produces 25 varieties of apples, such as Golden Delicious, Jonathan and Green Granny. The orchard also has other fruits, such as strawberries, that are not developed enough yet to be harmed by today’s cold temperatures, Ditzler said. Blueberries will be hit somewhat, but will survive.

But below-zero temperatures last winter have killed this year’s crop of blackberries. “They can go to about 10 degrees below zero in the winter, but we got 14 degrees below three times, so everything above ground on the blackberries is dead. The plant roots are fine and will produce next year,” Ditzler said.

Sullivan and Greene counties each had freeze advisory forecasts for this morning. Fruit buds are a little more advanced and developed than some other plants and are susceptible to freeze, said Mike Ryan, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Temperatures in Vigo County were forecast at 26 to 27 degrees this morning and are forecast to reach 54 degrees this afternoon. April 20 is the average last day of temperatures at 32 degrees or lower for Terre Haute, while the average last day of temperatures of 36 or below, where frost is most common, is May 2, Ryan said.

“We have seen nights below freezing into early May before, but it becomes much more rare to see a frost after April 20th or 21st,” Ryan said. After May 8 in Terre Haute, the chance for a frost is very minimal, he said.

“The latest date where there was 32 degrees or lower in Terre Haute was on May 27, 1961, so that’s exceptionally late and that’s pretty rare,” Ryan said.

Still, this time of year, Ryan suggests people who already have plants in their gardens or have blooming flowers cover them in cold temperatures. “Certainly at 28 degrees or lower, you are talking about a hard freeze, and plants are more susceptible,” he said.

Jim Luzar, Purdue Extension educator in Vigo County, said wet weather can lead to soil compaction if farmers try to plant too early.

For vegetable growers, “very little has been done for gardens, except setting out plants that are cold-tolerant, like cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce and radish seeds. They are cool-season crops, and this weather is pretty typical for them,” Luzar said.

Luzar said farmers are not yet planting corn and soybeans because it’s too early to avoid a potential freeze.

For flowers, Luzar said perennials are closer to the soil and are insulated, but could get some leaf damage, or leaf freeze, but that will not kill the plants.

“We may get some bloom damage to magnolias. That is one of the casualties of spring weather. It is hit or miss here for magnolias, whether they get hit by a frost,” Luzar said. “This has happened in prior years and [people] may not get the benefit of the aesthetics, but it will not kill the plants. Unfortunately, a lot of them in Terre Haute are in full bloom. Yet, fortunately, we don’t have a lot of other plants out yet.”



Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.