Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association

GROWING FRUIT TREES AND MUCH MORE IN TOK

May 28, 1991

Last winter (89-90) we dropped to -50 F and had a lot of snow. There was considerable damage from snow mold. We occasionally had snow mold in Michigan, but it never seemed to be harmful. Here last winter we lost a lot of our strawberries (‘Toklat’, ‘Pioneer’ and an old variety from friends of friends in Fairbanks). It also killed native plants such as the pasqueflowers.

 

We gave up on the ‘Latham’ raspberries. Some roots survived but not producing canes. The ‘Kiskas’ aren’t doing good. There’s been a lot of winterkill on the larger, most vigorous growing canes and those that survive produce very poorly.

 

The Siberian crabapple came through good except for some moose browse (the fencing has since been improved). The Ranetka crabapple survived but was under snow.

 

In the spring of ‘90 we planted a ‘Dolgo’ crab. It grew good and had stopped most growth by fall.

 

We order our nursery stock for delivery as late as possible so hopefully the ground can be dug, although we try to have at least some of the planting holes prepared the fall before. When the ‘Dolgo’ came, it had considerable blanched growth. I used a piece of old row cover to wrap the tree—a couple of layers loosely draped around it—for several days. Whatever the reason the growth greened and went on growing—even the buds opened.

 

The serviceberry, ‘Smoky’ wintered under the snow. We were given serviceberry roots by a friend in Fairbanks from an old tree that grows good up there. Any idea what it might be? [Ed note: It’s hard to say. Could be our native serviceberry or any one of a half dozen Canadian varieties that all grow well here].

 

The ‘Holland Long Bunch’ currant survived, but its growth wasn’t vigorous.

 

Our largest chokecherry was moose browsed but still had a few flowers. We were given a rooted branch of a ‘Canada Red’ cherry 2 years ago. This past summer it grew vigorously. The parent tree has survived several years in this area.

 

There has been a couple of mentions of a pin cherry. Also saw them listed by a nursery in the Palmer area. In Michigan, we had a native pin or bird cherry that made excellent jelly. They were hardy in the coldest areas of the interior of northern lower Michigan—an area where temperatures were known to drop to -50 F. They were a fast-growing relatively short-lived tree that could reach 20-30 ft. although they were susceptible to an interior green wood rot. They grew on high, dry sandy or gravelly soil. The fruit was very small and very tart and grew like that of the cultivated sweet and tart cherries— not like the native black and chokecherries. [Ed note: The pin cherry most likely is Prunus pennsylvanica. We have some growing at the Georgeson Botanical Garden in Fairbanks. They produce a shrubby tree to about 15 feet tall, very pretty, and the fruit does make good jelly. Other growers in the Tanana Valley have told me that they are not reliably hardy, and that seed source is very important. Look for the hardiest strain possible].

 

Our ‘Viking KB3’ asparagus has survived for the past several years. It is mulched each fall because we lost the first bed during a very low snow winter. Last summer we had a couple of small pickings.

 

The Caragana, Cotoneaster and common lilac grow in this area. We also have French, and Persian lilacs, but they are still under the snow.

 

This past winter we had about normal, maybe a little above normal snow pack (20 inches as of March 15), and -53 F has been the coldest we have registered. Last spring we planted the ‘Hansen’ and Nanking cherries plus a lowbush huckleberry native to the northern lower Michigan sand plains. This year we’ll add a few more things and hope for good growing.

—Tom & Lena Clark