STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
The Highland Lakes has been hit with an Easter freeze — an unexpected cold snap that happens after planting season begins. While the extended, extreme drop in temperature is not expected to hurt wildflowers, it could prove a detriment to fruit trees, including peaches, a Hill Country favorite.
The freeze began March 3 and isn’t expected to end until early Wednesday, March 6, according to Wade Hibler, host of “Ask Wade” on KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune and a retired Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent for Burnet County.
“I think this one surprised a lot of people,” Hibler said.
So much so that some growers reached out to him for tips on how to protect their trees and plants. They especially wanted to know about a common freezing technique for citrus trees: spraying water on the trees right before the temperature reaches 32 degrees, which “freezes” the internal temperature of the trees at that level.
“Citrus growers a lot of times do that to preserve blooms,” he said. “Temperatures that are twenty-seven degrees or below are gruesome for three or four hours.”
He recommends putting 4-6 inches of organic mulch around the trees and watering that for extra protection. Without it, growers might lose the blooms they already have, he added, noting some trees are in full bloom now.
If growers already sprayed water on their trees March 3, Hibler said they could repeat the technique March 4 if the ice is melting.
Hibler said peach trees are one of several types of fruit trees grown in the Highland Lakes along with apple, pear, plum, and apricot.
Typical fruit trees carry 5,000-8,000 blooms, which eventually become fruit. Producers prune or physically thin the blooms to about 500 to guarantee suitable fruit size and quality.
Producers say a light freeze works to their advantage because it thins out crops naturally, but too many freezes are harmful.
Fruit trees aren’t the only food-producing plants that growers are working overtime to protect.
A Sweet Berry Farm crew covered all 6 acres of strawberry plants March 3 to help protect the berries against the freeze to the delight of many social media users thinking of visiting the pick-your-own farm. Workers anticipate uncovering the plants Wednesday in time to officially open for the spring season the next day.
For tomato plants, Hibler recommends placing wire cages around them then covering the cages with an old sheet from top to ground.
“Get them tucked in good and tight,” he said, “so there’s no air underneath. Under the sheet is above freezing. The key is to cover and moisten the soil. Soil is an insulator itself.”
The good news for wildflowers is that the low temperatures should have no impact, Hibler said.
“Those plants are designed for this weather,” he said.
The results of tonight’s freeze on this year’s peach crops and wildflowers will reveal plenty about their survival this season.
“Twenty-seven degrees well over four hours tonight will be another hit because of the long, drawn-out freezes,” he said.