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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Effects of the Freeze on Rhubarb and Other Fruits

Posted by John Fulton -

A little bit of warm weather spurred some growth in many of our perennials. Then a hard freeze comes along and some of our plants may need some special care.

Of course we can expect some fruit reduction in cases where severe frost or freezing catch trees in the tender bloom and early fruit set stages. Book figures are about a 10% reduction in apples at full bloom with a temperature of 28 degrees. Peaches and apricots in early fruit set at similar temperatures will see about a 25% fruit reduction. An additional decrease in temperature to about 26 degrees magnifies the losses. Of course this isn’t always bad. Many have been complaining the past couple of years about too much fruit and broken branches.

Of bigger concern is rhubarb. A hard freeze can actually damage leaf cells enough to release a toxin back into the leaf stalks. The leaves are always toxic on rhubarb, and if damaged enough to wilt or have black or brown along the edges, the toxin is almost certainly released. The solution is rather simple, at least this early in the game. Pull the stalks with the damaged leaves, and you get to start over with the regrowth. It may happen again as the plants have more growth, but at least now we are early enough we don’t feel quite so bad about starting at ground level again.

For those who got some potatoes out, if foliage is damaged enough to wilt, it is probably best to cut tops back to ground level and allow regrowth. Rotting back into the tubers causes more problems later on.

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