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Early bloom a concern for Utah fruit growers

By Sam Penrod | Posted - Mar. 18, 2017 at 7:45 a.m.



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AMERICAN FORK — The calendar tells Jeff Mitchell the acre of apricot trees in his orchard are confused by a nice stretch of unseasonably warm weather.

"These are a week, maybe 10 days early; but at least a week early, and they have just really accelerated the last few days," Mitchell said.

His apricots bloomed Friday morning. With four more days until the official arrival of spring, all it will take is one cold night to damage this year’s crop.

Mitchell says apricots are important to Utah fruit growers — they are one of the first crops they can sell each year.

"Apricots are a specialty item around here. It is tough to grow them and to set a crop, but they look really good now," he said.

Two years ago, warm weather in mid-March also led to an early bloom of apricots.

"We had a beautiful crop then and then it froze them, and froze them hard, but it didn't freeze until it was probably mid to late april. And it froze them when the fruit was about the size of your little finger," Mitchell said.

"If you have a backyard fruit tree and you are worried about it, the best thing to do is watch it,” said Brent Black, fruit specialist at the Utah State University extension office.

Black said those with just a few trees in their backyard can often save the fruit, even during a hard freeze.

“Putting a tarp over them, putting a blanket over them — just like you would cover your tomatoes in the fall — you can cover a small fruit tree in the spring to protect the blossoms,” Black said.

That is much more difficult in a large orchard. All Mitchell and other Utah fruit growers can hope for now is that Mother Nature has also had enough of our cold winter.

"The next week, 10 days, looks really mild. And the nighttime temperatures look really good, so maybe it will be a nice, mild spring and we will be fine,” he said.

In 2016, Utah had a bumper crop of apricots. If these early blossoms survive, the apricots will be ready to harvest in early July.

Sam Penrod

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