Climate Change and Fruit Trees

There’s been a lot of talk about odd weather patterns and climate change across the globe but how will that affect our fruit trees and orchards? The Urban Forestry Radio Show’s host Susan Poizner sat down with Gregory Michael Peck, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Sustainable Fruit Production Systems at Cornell University to discuss how climate change affects fruit trees today, and how they might be affected in the future.

This isn’t the first time the climate has changed; the planet has changed drastically every few thousand years across its entire history. Normally, plants and animals would be able to naturally adapt and evolve to deal with changes. The problem that we face today is the fact that things are changing faster than ever before, and nature can’t keep up.

Climate Change and Fruit Tree Management

What’s the relevance for growers? If the environment changes, either the plants must change, or people need to change how they manage their plants. This is especially true for fruit trees, which change slowly over the course of many generations, even with human encouragement through breeding programs and the development of new cultivars.

Climate change can result in late frosts which can kill blossoms - from dandelions to fruit tree blossoms. If a frost kills the blossoms on your fruit tree, that will reduce your harvest that year.. Photo credit: pixabay.

Climate change can result in late frosts which can kill blossoms – from dandelions to fruit tree blossoms. If a frost kills the blossoms on your fruit tree, that will reduce your harvest that year.. Photo credit: pixabay.

For example, Peck discussed the phenomenon of early springs and late frost. Most fruit trees are deciduous, losing their leaves and going into dormancy in the winter. After emerging from dormancy they bloom, to begin pollination as early as possible.

When fruit trees bloom in the early spring, they become vulnerable to a late frost, which can kill the delicate blossoms and dash any hopes of an abundant harvest for that year.

Fruit Trees Are Vulnerable to Extreme Weather

The changing climate is also expected to bring increasingly extreme weather. Some areas such as California have been seeing historically severe droughts. Other areas are seeing much more flooding than before. These changes make fruit trees vulnerable to poor growing seasons, pests, sun damage, and more.

But is there a sunny side to climate change? Will we be growing pomelos in Michigan in the near future? Peck says not. The priority, he says, is finding ways to work with current climate trends and in the interview he outlines strategies to help orchardists adapt to these changes – click below to listen to the entire interview and subscribe to our podcast to hear other fantastic episodes. 

Kameron Chausse

Kameron Chausse

Intern at OrchardPeople.com.

Kameron Chausse is a Windsor, Ontario based writer and student at St Clair College. He is currently an intern for the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com.