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Southwest Michigan fruit season: slower start due to cold winter

The winter of 2017-2018 was cold compared to last year. Growers report this winter cold did cause some damage, but it seems minor and localized. Chilling requirements were completed for many plants during warm periods in January and February. Warm weather in late February caused plants to colour up and bud swell was noticed in many plants.

Little movement occurred in March because that month was very chilly. Currently, southwest Michigan is ahead of areas just a few miles to the north where no bud movement occurred.

Low temperatures around New Year’s caused damage to some peach and sweet cherry fruit buds in some areas of southwest Michigan. Growers are generally encouraged by the slow start to the season. A slow start delaying bud growth reduces the risk of a damaging freeze in early spring. At this time, most fruit crops are still in the swollen bud or bud burst stage and it would require cold temperatures below -6oC to cause significant damage to tree fruit flower buds.

According to, tree fruit crop potentials are generally good. Cool and dry conditions for the last month have held back tree fruit development and allowed growers to make good progress in spring chores, including pruning. Recent rain and snow events have made any fieldwork and spraying difficult.

Peach and nectarine terminal fruit buds are showing first sign of swelling. Long episodes of wetting and temperatures above 10oC favour bacterial spot. Dormant sprays of copper or fungicides will reduce peach leaf curl. Low level of copper also suppresses bacterial populations.

In cherries, sweet cherry bud swelling is evident. Montmorency tart cherry fruit buds are still relatively tight. We are still in the window when copper sprays can be applied to sweet cherries. Copper applications may reduce bacterial canker in cherries.

In plums, Japanese plum varieties are at swollen bud to early bud burst. European plums are relatively dormant.

Apples generally show little or no bud swell. The current cool temperatures will allow scab ascospores to mature so that more spores will be available in the early stages of apple development. Copper sprays will be going out soon for early scab control and fire blight suppression.

Pear fruit buds are at very early bud swell.

Grapes have not yet begun growth. There is some concern over winter lows, but most growers who have checked their buds report they still have numerous primary buds and the potential for a good crop.

Blueberry flower buds are only slightly swollen. Leaf buds do not appear swollen but warmer weather will bring on growth, making them susceptible to mummy berry infections. Many growers have already applied copper, Sulforix or lime sulfur products to suppress early season diseases.

Strawberries have greened up but new leaves are not emerging from the crown. Over-wintering mulches should be removed and raked between the rows. Growers are looking at early-season herbicides to control overwintering weeds.

Brambles show little movement. Dormant pruning should be completed. In summer bearing raspberries, last year’s primocanes should be headed (cut back) to the desired height and any remaining floricanes from last year should be removed. Fall bearing raspberries should be cut or mowed to the ground.

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