The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Most hardy fruit plants

White goat in the grass

I'm going to talk about a lot of dead plants in this post, so here's a cute shot of Lamb Chop as preemptive mitigation. Feel free to scroll back up here if you start to get depressed.

Winter-killed peach

I used to think that late spring freezes were the primary bane of fruit-growers in our region, but this past winter taught me otherwise. With a low of -22 Fahrenheit, which is more typical of zone 4 than zone 6, all of our peach trees not only lost their bloom buds midwinter...they also lost most of their branches. Each tree has a couple of dozen leaves finally coming out of winter-bare limbs, and once I'm confident that all living buds have sprouted, I'll prune the trees way back to start their lives nearly over. At last, I'm beginning to understand why so few people in our region try to grow peach trees --- the stone fruits aren't really reliably hardy here in the mountains, despite being supposedly able to handle weather up through zone 5.

Strawberry blooms passing by

Similarly, this is the second or third winter when nearly all of our blackberries have been killed back to the ground, and a few of our black raspberries were similarly affected for the first time this year as well. Once again, blackberries and black raspberries are only hardy to zone 5, while red raspberries and strawberries (both of which came through this winter unscathed) are hardy to zone 3. Climate change seems to be reliably introducing an element of unreliable extremes to our winters, so I think it's safe to say that we're better off focusing on fruits like plums and red raspberries that can handle bouts of extreme cold rather than depending on species that are turning out to be undependable in our region. (Good thing red raspberries and strawberries are Mark's and my favorite berries, respectively.)

Apple bloom buds

Blooming apple treeI can't be sure, but I feel like even some of our apple bloom buds were affected by the winter's extreme cold, even though the species is supposed to be hardy to zone 3. The tree that gets more winter sun is loaded with flowers, but the high-density planting closer to our north-facing hillside has opened far fewer flowers than the number of bloom buds this winter seemed to suggest.

As a result, I'm putting more thought into protected locations that are likely to mitigate winter's extreme cold when I plan ahead for locating our newly grafted fruit trees. Budbreak on grafted appleCurrently, I'm eying the south-facing side of the gully which, if terraced just above the waterlog-line, would provide a warm and protected environment for quite a few tender fruit trees. Maybe that's where I'll plant our new plums?

In more pleasant news, leaves are starting to appear on the scionwood of many of my newly grafted fruit trees. I'm pretty sure that when these buds burst, that means the cambial layers of the scionwood and rootstock have merged (i.e. the graft has taken). So far, 14 out of 16 apples, 8 out of 10 pears, and 1 out of 5 plums have begun to unfurl leaves on the scionwood. Since the pears and plums were only grafted a little over a week ago, I have high hopes that the success percentages of the latter two species will rise to match the apples in time. So it looks like I'll have plenty of experimental material to replace what we lost last winter --- I'll have to use my new trees wisely!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I've lost so many plants over the last few years. The trees that are already well established are doing fine, the blueberries are so-so, so I bought more. The strawberries, which I had in containers, pretty much are dead as Daleks. All of my crape myrtles seem to be dead. I've given up on crape myrtles despite the fact that I love them. Even the well established ones seem to have died. :(

On the plus side, the lilacs, which I planted despite a friend saying they don't do well here, seem to be thriving as well as a couple of flowering quinces which actually had flowers on them this year! The wild blackberries are coming back like crazy. I hate them. They're invasive and have the nastiest tasting "fruit" you can image. It takes like gravel or grit. I'd love to have raspberries but I'm terrified they'll cross-pollinate with the wild blackberries (which are growing EVERYWHERE and which I spend an inordinate amount of time cutting down) and end up with raspberries that taste like sand or very fine gravel.

Glad to see your scionwood is working. I've never had any luck with that.

Comment by NaYan Mon Apr 20 09:23:41 2015
I'm so sorry, Anna! It rots that the climate won't behave exactly the way we want. (Really, I'm being serious.) Losing fruit off of trees is particularly frustrating, I know.
Comment by Emily Mon Apr 20 16:01:11 2015
It's a bit early to tell whether your grafts will live or die. A vigorous scion can bud and even leaf out relying on its own stored energy. Once things start getting hot and dry you will know for sure.
Comment by Patrick Mon Apr 20 17:11:19 2015

Say, Anna, we're in Northwest Missouri (zone 5b) and our blackberries produced well even after the freakish winter of 2013 when we dipped into the negatives several times. Our plants were transplanted from a native thicket nearby, which also produced well despite the bitter cold. Do you think this is a different variety than any that you've tried? And would you be interested in me sending you some to try out in your area?

Comment by Roberta Mon Apr 20 20:13:31 2015
Anna, when I lived in cold climates, my few fruit trees did better on a cold site that stayed cold later into the spring; the ones in spots without wind, sheltered, always bloomed too soon...Maybe try the opposite strategy also? Best of luck to you, Laura
Comment by Laura Tue Apr 21 15:39:10 2015

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