Plant-Killing Cold Snap Pending

Spring is in the air, but it’s only February. You’ve probably noticed that plants are budding and flowers are starting to poke their petals out. With such a mild winter, many are concerned that temperatures might dip again and damage these tender plants, but are their concerns warrented?

“So, it depends on how sensitive they are,” replied Oregon State University horticulture faculty member, Brooke Edmunds when asked about potential cold damage to budding plants. 

“We will probably be getting a cold snap,” she cautioned. “If folks have any sensitive plants that they can cover or move, it might be a good idea when it gets down into the 20s.” You may just have to keep an eye on fruit trees and other plants that are not so easily moved. 


Edmunds explained that if the flowers on fruit trees are damaged, it can affect the quality of the fruit produced. She said that her own apricot tree in her yard was already beginning to flower, and she was concerned that cold temperatures damaging the flowers might mean less fruit come harvest time. 

Fortunately, only new plants or sensitive plants are likely to be damaged from a short dip in temperatures. Established landscaping should generally be fine.

“If it’s something that is a prized plant, take some steps to protect the plants,” said Edmunds. This means placing a light row cover, fabric, or even bed sheets on plants overnight. “Just don’t leave the cover on too long.” Edmunds explained that leaving a cover on too long can cause moisture build up, which may lead to other problems. 

Edmunds said that large scale commercial growers have professional procedures for protecting plants in the event of freezing temperatures, so commercial crops being affected is less of a concern.

To get a commercial growers take, I spoke with Lynn Thompson at Blueberry Meadows, a blueberry farm in northern Corvallis. 

“In nature, in general, we are seeing signs that we are further along in spring that is typical in the calendar,” said Thompson. “It’s been a very warm January; I’m expecting an early summer.”

Thompson’s concern is not cold temperatures, but the lack thereof. “Where I have concerns are pests,” she said. The spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is an invasive fruit fly that came to the U.S. in 2009. They are detrimental to soft skinned fruit, such as cherries, strawberries, blackberries and grapes.

“In years where we have colder temps there is more die off,” explained Thompson. “In years where it’s a mild winter they come out in numbers.” This year’s mild winter has Thompson concerned that they will be more affected by SWD. If so, this means more of their crop will be damaged, and they will have to spend additional resources sorting their blueberries to keep the quality high. 

The only affect temperatures will have is that some varieties of blueberries on Thompson’s farm will be available sooner. “Everything we grow we sell locally and [it] gets sold,” she said. “It’s more individual, customers may not get the variety they would like to get.”

Freezing temperatures this spring might affect your garden at home, but there are precautions you can take. As far as snagging your favorite varieties of blueberries, don’t let the calendar fool you, and give your local blueberry farm a call to find out when your favorite type will be in season.

By Ashley Rammelsberg

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