Climate Concerns

The Complete Grape Growing System

The Complete Grape Growing System

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Minimum winter temperatures at your site largely determine which fruit cultivars you can grow successfully. In addition to the genetics of the cultivar (including both the tree and the rootstock in the case of fruit trees), many other factors affect whether or not your trees or small fruits will survive over the winter. If your soil is poorly drained, your plants are less likely to make it to the spring. Likewise, other stresses will reduce the plants' hardiness, including a heavy crop the previous season, too much or too little nitrogen or other nutritional problems, and defoliation or other pest damage.

Predicting winter hardiness is an inexact science, but a good place to start is by determining which USDA Hardiness Zone you live in (see Hardiness Zones map on the inside cover). The USDA Hardiness Zones are determined by the average low temperature in winter. Keep in mind that these are averages, and in extreme years the temperatures may get even colder. Compare your expected low temperatures with the information below.

Most cultivars of apple and pear trees can withstand winter lows of -25 degrees F (USDA Hardiness Zone 4b).

Sour cherries, plums, and blueberries suffer winter injury when the minimum temperature is lower than -20 degrees F, so they are not reliably hardy beyond Zone 5a. Brambles will survive these temperatures but may not bear fruit the following season. 4

Poorly drained soil reduces winter survival.

The wood of sweet cherries and peaches can sustain damage when temperatures approach -20 degrees F, and the flower buds of peach trees are usually killed when temperatures reach -15 degrees F. Sweet cherries are usually successful only in Zones 5 and warmer, and peaches in Zones 6 and warmer.

During cold winters with little snow cover, unmulched strawberry plants often sustain winter injury. Although some grape cultivars such as Concord can withstand temperatures around -20 degrees F, vinifera-type grapevines survive weather this cold only if they are buried for the winter.

Keep in mind that winter hardiness is just one factor in determining whether a particular fruit cultivar will perform well on your site. Your location may not have extremely low winter temperatures, but if it's prone to late spring frosts, freezing temperatures may kill blossoms on early-flowering cultivars (see the Average Last Spring Frost map on the inside front cover). Expect losses due to flower damage on many types of fruit where frost occurs frequently after May 10.

Temperatures in a given region can vary greatly depending on elevation, exposure, and proximity to large bodies of water. Cold air settles into low areas, and even during periods of a hard freeze, temperatures at the middle or top of a slope can be several degrees warmer than at the bottom. If at all possible, avoid planting fruit in these low-lying frost pockets.

The length of your growing season is also important, as some cultivars require a long frost-free period to ripen fruit (see Average Frost-Free Growing Season map on the inside front cover). Some also require a minimum number of "growing degree days" (GDDs), essentially a measure of how much warm weather you have at your site.

Carefully check hardiness information in nursery catalogs before ordering plants to make sure that they are winter hardy in your area and are well matched to the length of your growing season. If your location is prone to late spring frosts, look for late-flowering varieties. The fruits of fall-bearing raspberries and early-blooming grapes are more likely to ripen in areas that have early fall frosts.

Keys for Success

Are you ready for commitment?

Tree fruits, in particular, require a lot of care and don't come into full production for several years. Strawberries, on the other hand, aren't much more difficult to grow than most garden crops. Most of the other small fruits fall somewhere in between but still require regular pruning and care and, in some cases, trellising. If deer or other wildlife are abundant, plantings may require fencing or other protection. Make sure you are ready for the commitment before you jump in.

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