The recent ice storm forced us into an impromptu experiment in saving fruit trees. The smallest amount of ice build up can easily break limbs or even completely destroy young trees. Our cherry tree is especially susceptible to breakage since it is double grafted, or has 2 different grafts. The first is onto a disease resistant dwarfing stock, and the second much weaker graft, is of a tangy, yellow cherry onto a sweet, dark red cherry base. This tree will produce the bright yellow, Stark Gold cherries from one main branch, and dark red, Van Sweet's from another.
My other main trees of concern were the apples. An especially precocious Granny Smith has put on over 8ft of new growth since spring. The Cox's Orange Pippin, while not as big, had quite a bit of new, still flimsy growth.
A few weeks ago I had made my way through all of the fruit trees installing tall metal stakes and retying all of them nicely (and very thoroughly...perhaps even too thoroughly) to prepare for all of the wind we experience in the late fall and winter.
By the time I had gotten off of work and managed to get home, it was already getting dark. We quickly went to work with the only idea that I could think of. I once read (on a random blog about raising cold hardy citrus) that large C9 christmas lights could be used to prevent citrus from being damaged from a light frost. In theory, if enough bulbs are on the tree, a microclimate is created from all of the heat, staving off the frost. After we got a few strands of lights untangled, and found enough extension cords, a thin layer of ice had already begun to form on the trees. Since all of the leaves on the top hadn't fallen off yet, the tree started sagging dangerously low, making a frightening creaking, crackling sound. In the midst of wrapping the lights in the trees, my hands became too stiff to bend. I shoved them into my pockets to warm them...and that is when I had my second idea...to form a teepee of sorts around the tree to not only trap heat in the crucial grafting and crotch angle areas, but to also funnel the heat upwards onto the branches that couldn't be wrapped. Thomas went inside to cut strips of plastic while I finished stringing up the lights. Hopefully, the plastic would also form a physical barrier to protect against frost, as well as "holding" the branches up if tied tightly enough. It was the best we could come up with in the moment, so we went with it.
The fruit trees, all dressed up for the ice storm.
I was nervous waking up this morning. As I put on my coffee and got dressed to feed the chickens, I wondered how many branches would be littered around the yard. With up to a quarter of an inch of ice forecasted, it could have easily been a grim sight.
As I stepped out onto the porch, I could see the ice had blown up at least four feet onto our covered porch... Not a good sign.
Limbs from our oak trees were scattered around our side yard. Luckily, the rosemary bushes I planted very close to the house, on the west facing wall had no ice at all on them, and they still looked very healthy and green.
I walked on out the fruit trees and noticed the ice had built up about a tenth of an inch, but the leaves had also captured multiple runs of roughly inch long icicles, making them quite heavy.
I looked down into our make-shift teepees, and found no ice at all! All of the ice that had already formed had melted, and had even managed to dry the bark.
If you look closely you can see the graft union under the base of the green light bulb. The reason that these joints are so weak is that a graft doesn't "fuse" together. The original touching wood will never be joined, but all new growth will be completely joined as one. So, with only one season of growth, it is still quite susceptible to breakage.
While the experiment was a success in that no damage occurred to any of our fruit trees, there were some failures. The chimney effect that I had hoped to create, did not seem to be successful which allowed the continual buildup of ice on unprotected, exposed wood.
In this photo you can see that the protection ends with the plastic. However, this was definitely a success, and I think it could even be used on a larger scale to protect fruit blossoms from late spring frosts (to ensure a crop of fruit each year). All in all, this experiment cost nothing, and took about an hour to carry out. The insurance it provided was enough that we have decided to leave the protective measures in place until this storm system has completely passed us! Until next time...