ITHACA, N.Y. — More mild winters with erratic changes in temperature, such as the one we’re experiencing, could have damaging effects on both grape and apple crops across New York state.
Jason Londo, associate professor of fruit crop physiology and climate adaptation, says he doesn’t expect there has been much damage this year so far, but he has concerns about early budbreak leading to a higher risk of frost damage in the region.
“This winter has been much more mild overall than normal, and it is having an effect on both apples and grapes across New York state,” says Londo. “In my program we track winter hardiness, the ability of grapes and apples to avoid freeze damage. For both crops, cold hardiness is weaker than in past years, mostly due to our very mild November and December. We don’t expect that there is much damage this year so far, but as we get closer to spring, I do have concerns that we will see early budbreak. In our region, that means a higher risk of frost damage. I’m hoping that we keep the temperatures low, bouncing around the freeze point, in order to keep apple and grape buds dormant.
“Winter is very important for both grapevines and apple trees. The time spent during the winter looks very boring to us, the trees and vines lack leaves and fruit and appear asleep. However, very important changes in internal physiology are happening all through winter. Those changes are necessary for synchronized budbreak and flowering in the coming growing season.
“Since grapes and apples are perennial species, they have adapted to consistent climate patterns and have fine-tuned their winter responses to help them enter dormancy in the fall at the right time, and break bud in the spring at the right time. As our winter’s get more mild, they are also getting more erratic. It is very difficult for growers to mitigate these sorts of large-scale swings in temperature.”