-by Dwight Bradley
We sustained fairly bad winter damage to our 50-odd apple trees in Peters Creek, This came as a surprise and a letdown, because last fall and winter really were pretty mild. The first serious frost didn’t come until the first few days of October, giving everything a few extra weeks to ripen fruit, and to harden off. Moreover, when the first snows came, the ground hadn’t yet frozen, and the ground never did free very deeply. Our coldest winter temperatures were only around -25°F. certainly mild by Alaskan standards. Despite all that, we lost 19 trees(!) that were killed to the graft, another 8 that were killed back to just above the graft, and a handful of others that showed mild dieback.
There appear to have been two main causes. As usual, certain varieties absolutely refused to shed their leaves, even after the very late fall. And as usual, some of these trees lost major scaffold branches when the first snows came (for example, Antotiovka, Geneva Early, Yellow Jay, Quinte, Liveiand Raspberry, and Red Melba). But the main culprit appears to have been sunscald. The damaged or killed trees have loose, discolored bark in blister-like patches, and this looks just like the sunscald that Cathy Wright showed us at the Plant Materials Center in May. During early March there was a welcome spell of above-freezing weather that lasted maybe a week, followed by more sub-zero weather, then breakup, which began March 29. One of the dead trees (a Parkland, unfortunately) was alive and well in February, when I took a foot of scionwood off the central leader. Many of the trees showed early signs of life in the spring. They started to leaf out in mid May, then stalled, then died. Upon replanting, I found that the root systems of the every one of the killed trees (Antonovka and Ranetka) were in beautiful condition.
Dead trees: Dudley, Geneva Early (2 trees), Red Melba, Lodi, Beacon, Red Astrachan (2). Rosthern 15, Wealthy, Early Joe, Parkland (one of 3, the others completely unscathed), July Red, Ginger Gold, Duchess, Primate, Iowa Beauty. Burgundy, and Northern Lights.
Severe damage; Quinte, Vista Bella, Yellow Jay, Early Cortland, Yeager Sweet, 15th St., Breaky, and Mantet.
The end result is that I’m quite a bit less optimistic than I had been about apple growing in Alaska — but not about to give up!. Nonetheless, the good news is that most of the varieties that died or were badly damaged were not ones that I had planned on planting in great numbers. Even before this sobering experience, I had already converted from a variety collector to an apple grower. My main goal now is to grow good apples, not lots of different, rare kinds. So I had already decided that any future plantings would be restricted to the most proven, successful varieties. I guess this means lots of Norlands. Rescue appears to be even better adapted than Norland, but despite their wonderful flavor the apples simply aren’t big enough to have much commercial potential. I was disappointed to lose a Parkland; hopefully the loss of this whip, which had been grafted only the previous spring, was a fluke. The loss of two Geneva Early trees was enough to drop this fine variety off my personal top five list, at least for Peters Creek.