AUSTIN (KXAN) — Although it’s hard to argue that 80°+ “winter” afternoons are unpleasant, if you ask a fruit tree, they’re not as joyful.
Fruit trees need a certain amount of hours of “chill time”, or time spent between 32° and 50°, for ideal spring growth. This is an important part of the tree’s life cycle. Colder temperatures and shorter days (less sunshine) during the winter months signal the hormones in the tree to go dormant, suppressing bud and/or flower development.
Without that dormancy period, trees can become weak and more susceptible to disease and insects. A lack of chill time can also lead to less fruit production in the spring. On the other extreme, too harsh of a chill time (prolonged period of temperatures at or below 32°) can also stress the tree.
Texas peach production
Farmers harvest millions of pounds of peaches on thousands of acres of Texas land every year. Looking specifically in our backyard, Gillespie County is home to several hundred acres of peach orchards.
Although peach trees require less chill time compared to other fruit trees (400 hour requirement versus cherries’ 1000+ hour requirement), our recent extreme weather is cause for concern.
Not only did we spend over two and half days well below freezing in December, our ongoing January warmth could be harmful to Texas’ upcoming peach season (mid-May through mid-August).
Climate change worsening impacts
Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are causing our globe to warm and our climate to change. But not all seasons are warming at the same rate.
Our partners at Climate Central report that winter is the fastest warming season for majority (74%) of the nation.
Here at home, this week’s January warmth has been anything but normal. In fact, Austin is currently experiencing its warmest start to the year on record (tied with 1907).
IN-DEPTH: So far this season, Austin has recorded 7 freezes (overnight temperatures at or below freezing), 5 short of normal (12).
With anthropogenic climate change, warmer winters and more erratic weather patterns are expected.
Unseasonably warm weather in conjunction with a warmer climate will make it harder for fruit trees to reach their required chill time for successful fruit production.
With less fruit production, prepare for the possibility of paying more for your favorite fruits when harvest season begins.