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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 Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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