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Cold snap worries fruit tree growers

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Apr 30 2013 06:50:11 PM MDT
Updated On: Apr 30 2013 10:14:35 PM MDT

With weather expected to dip into the 20's overnight,  fruit crops are at serious risk.

MISSOULA, Mont. -

Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning will be a crucial time for fruit tree growers. With weather as cold as this, fruit crops are at serious risk.

Fruit tree growers are paying extra attention to weather reports, and reviewing their trees to see just how vulnerable they are.

Ethan Smith strolls through the PEAS Farm orchard in Missoula's Rattlesnake. The farm has apple trees, as well as plum, apricot, pear trees, even a peach tree.

When temperatures plummet to the mid 20s, it's never good news for early bloomers.

"Trees that have swollen buds or buds that are open could freeze," said Smith. "They could die off tonight."

Smith is concerned about the plums, as well as the pears. Apricots are early bloomers, and don't always make it.

A May cold snap slashed the PEAS Farm apples in 2012.

Montana prides itself on its apples.

"The apples seem to be a week from opening," said Smith. "They're swelling. We might get lucky."

Across town at Benson's Farm off Reserve Street, horticulture extension agent Seth Swanson checks out the fruit trees. He cuts into one of the buds on a tree, and finds it healthy. But he said the night is going to be a gamble for apple trees.

Some remain tightly wrapped and insulated, said the horticulturist, while others have developed more.

"If it was really open and showing some color," said Swanson, "we could maybe see a 10 percent loss. It's hard to show an exact number."

But he also said a May Day cold snap  follows a bunch of cold snaps in April. So apples have been shy of developing.

"The development of the tree is delayed a little," said Swanson, "so that's a good thing."