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The last couple of weeks we had unusually warm weather in the Northeast -- several days had record warm temperatures. My pair of (two-year-old, 8' high) peach trees have buds earlier than usual. If it matters, the varieties are Reliance and Red Haven, both selected for hardiness.

The warm streak is ending abruptly: it will be 12°F on Monday night.

  • Is this warm/cold transition going to prevent me from getting fruit this year?
  • Is there anything I can do to protect them from the cold? I'm thinking about covering them, but two nights below 20°F and a day with a high of 32°F seems like a long time for a tarp to keep the chill off.
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what stage are the buds? if the buds are just starting to swell, they might be okay at 12F. –  David Mar 27 '12 at 2:48
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Unless they have passed the stage of bud swelling, they should be okay at 12F (as discussed by Clemson and NCSU extension).

Methods used to actively protect a tree from low temperatures work best under calm clear conditions. Under these conditions, an inversion layer occurs - this is a relatively stable cold air mass at the surface with warmer air above.

  1. Cover with a blanket - helps to retain heat radiated from the earth surface
  2. Spray a mist to create a fog - helps to retain heat radiated from the earth surface
  3. Wind machine - helps to mix cold air at surface with warmer air above.
  4. Irrigate - frozen water around the buds serve to insulate them from lower temperatures
  5. place heaters under the tree.

These are all described in more detail in the publication "Frost Protection for Fruit Crops" from Iowa State University Extension and the "Freeze Protection Fact Sheet" published by Ontario Minstry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. For more details on how to implement the irrigation method, see the NCSU Guide to Deciding When the Start and Stop Irrigation for Frost Protection of Fruit Crops by K.B. Perry.

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Thanks for those pointers. I think they're at "red calyx", so I may use some percentage but not all the buds. I considered using a blanket/tarp, but the wind has been really strong. I think putting a giant sail on the trees would do more harm than the cold, and the wind pretty much makes mist impossible too. I guess I'm taking my chances... –  bstpierre Mar 27 '12 at 3:31
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@bstpierre sounds like the freeze you are having is not the type amenable to these methods. But temperatures experienced by a tree can be very different from temperatures predicted for a region. Good Luck! You could always wrap garbage bags around individual branches... –  David Mar 27 '12 at 3:34
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This answer gardening.stackexchange.com/a/3856/499 from @jdickson to use Christmas lights was too good not to be referred to. Should work in cases where you have old inefficient lights and the frost is not below 5 deg F –  kevinsky Apr 16 '12 at 17:43
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