Freeze brings concern for fruit, flowers

Every degree matters when you're a delicate spring flower.

The 22-degree chill that slammed Central Kentucky on April 6 and 7 two years ago devastated the state's farmers and killed many Japanese maples and other decorative landscape plants.

This year, there's another Canadian air invasion on the exact same dates, but the temperature is only expected to dip into the upper 20s. A statewide freeze alert has been issued for all of Kentucky.

The experts say it will be cold, but no wipeout.

"We've talked to several specialists who think we need to get down to 25 degree to cause significant damage," said Keys Arnold, a meteorologist with the University of Kentucky's Agricultural Weather Center.

That doesn't mean there won't be damage.

Dustin Dove, the nursery manager for Wilson Nurseries in Frankfort, spent most of Monday fielding calls from customers worried about protecting their plants.

His advice: Don't stress.

"If the temperature goes down to 29 on a couple of days, most material is going to be in pretty good shape," he said. "On anything that's flowering, you might see a little bit of burn."

He suggested that plants that are especially delicate and expensive, such as Japanese maples, could be covered with cheese cloth or burlap to protect them.

Dove said he was somewhat concerned that rain or snow might make cloth coverings heavy enough to damage limbs.

He suggested going out in the morning before the sun rises and spraying plants with water to "knock off the frost." But that advice was contradicted by John Strang, a UK fruit extension specialist. Water could create an evaporative cooling that would damage delicate leaves or blossoms, Strang said.

For more common plants, Dove said homeowners might just accept that there might be a little damage. The two 10-foot lilacs at his house are on their own, he said.

Kentucky's wheat crop is right at the stage where it could be damaged by the cold, Arnold said. The corn crop might be better off, in part because recent wet weather has delayed planting.

There is concern about apples and other fruit crops.

At 28 degrees, Strang said, a 10 percent loss of apple blooms can be expected. At 25 degrees, that goes up to 90 percent.

This cold snap is especially worrisome and hard to predict because it's expected to be windy. That means that traditional methods such as using propane heaters in orchards won't work.