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After cold nights, expect good peaches, apples

Lack of frost this winter balanced out by more chill hours

Peach blossoms
Thanks to more chill hours this winter, crops from peach trees (like this Honey Babe variety) and
apple trees should do well this year. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Sacramento may not have experienced much frost this winter, but we got plenty of chill.

That’s important for many kinds of fruit and berries that require a big chunk of time in sub-45-degree conditions to set viable fruit.

Sacramento’s chill season stretches from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28. During that period, we had only 11 nights that dipped down to 32 degrees or lower, concluding with two in January. According to the National Weather Service, 27 degrees on Jan. 26 was our coldest night this winter and our only hard frost of 2020-21. There were no 32-degree or colder nights in February.

But another pattern emerged in our winter weather – plenty of spring-like warmth. Our coldest night in January followed a near-record high of 74 degrees a week earlier.

December recorded three nights (Dec. 19, 23 and 30) that reached 32 degrees but also set a new record high for the month of 74 degrees (Dec. 7). November saw six nights that hit 31 or 32 degrees. However, that month also saw a balmy high of 83 degrees.

Fortunately, enough cold but not freezing nights compensated for all those warm days.

“What is interesting is the amount of chill hours and chill units we received this season,” said Farmer Fred Hoffman, Sacramento’s longtime gardening authority.

Hoffman has been keeping track of local chill hours for many years. According to his tally, communities in the Sacramento Valley received 730 to 1,012 chill hours between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28. Foothill gardeners got 859 to 1,195 chill hours during that same period.

That compares to 682 to 756 in the valley and 674 to 1,159 in the foothills during the winter of 2019-2020.

“Chill portions, which take into consideration how warm it gets during the day which negates the cold nights, also had good results; 77-81 in the valley,” Hoffman said.

“I was told by one farm adviser that if you can accumulate over 67 chill portions, it’ll be a good year for peaches,” he added “It’s like the good old days (2014)! It should be a good year for high-chill deciduous fruit trees, especially apples.”

Gardeners will notice more fruit setting on their trees as well as more blueberries and blackberries.

Apples tend to need more than 50 chill portions. Peaches vary widely, but such old-fashioned favorites as O’Henry need at least 63 chill portions.

For a sampling of chill requirements, see this list compiled by the UC Davis’ Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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