Ask Burton: Q: My fruit trees are starting to bloom in January! Why are my trees blooming so early? Will they be damaged if we freeze again?

A: You can blame this one on the weather.


Fruit trees need a certain number of chilling hours – hours below 45 degrees – in order to set bloom properly. The fruit tree varieties used in an area are based on the average chilling hours we’ll get in winter. Most selections in our area need somewhere between 700 and 850 hours to set a proper bloom. Once your tree gets enough chilling time, sunny and warm weather can sometimes fool the tree’s internal “clock”, causing the tree to bloom early.


There is little you can do about this one. Your trees will be fine if we don’t get another powerful freeze. If we get an average (light) freeze, your blooms will thin – but this is generally to the tree’s benefit, allowing the plant to grow larger and sweeter fruit on the remaining flowers. It would help if you thinned a bearing fruit tree early in the crop, so a light freeze will save you time.


A hard freeze – well, off come all the flowers, and your tree will not produce this year. Professional growers have a few tricks to help their orchards get through a moderate cold snap, but they take equipment and effort way out of a normal homeowner’s landscape budget to pull off.


We can fix many problems, but Mother Nature reminds us we can’t control everything once in a while! A tree that isn’t bearing fruit will grow faster than one supporting a crop and will be ready to support even more fruit next year. Don’t sweat a poor production year in your landscape if it happens.