Spring Frost Threatens Central Virginia Crops
Central Virginia's vineyards and orchards are preparing Tuesday night to fight the freeze.
The frost threat puts fruit buds at risk. Producers say this wouldn't have been a problem just one week ago. The long winter delayed the bloom but last weekend's warm weather brought out the buds at one fell swoop.
Tuesday night, grape growers and fruit producers fear a freeze could destroy their crops. The grape buds are breaking at Veritas vineyards in Afton. Winemaker Emily Pelton says frost could destroy anything green on the vines.
Veritas' chardonnay and merlot are most at risk right now. The winery lost 55 percent of its chardonnay grapes to a frost right around this time last year.
“For us, we just have to hold our breaths. We're familiar with this type of thing in Virginia. Last year, we had a similar frost event about the same time. In 2007, we had a pretty serious one Easter weekend,” Pelton said.
Nearby at Critzer Family Farm, strawberry picking season begins in about two weeks. The farm took the winter covers off just last week, thinking the threat of a deep freeze was over.
Whitney Critzer said, “We've gone from Labor Day to this point. Now if we can make it two more weeks, but they're sometimes right tense weeks.”
Cherry trees are in full bloom and most vulnerable. The strawberry, peach, and plum crops are also sensitive to cold temperatures overnight.
The winemaker at Cardinal Point just a few miles away says he's not concerned at all by the freeze warning. He does what's called "double pruning," which delays those buds from coming out this early.
If you've already planted some spring buds, you'll need to take some precautions Tuesday night too.
Ivy Nursery plans to cover its outdoor plants and enclose its garden center, which houses the more vulnerable annuals. The nursery's owner, George Carter, says perennials are frost-hardy plants that should be just fine in the frost.
To ward off frost damage, gardeners recommend covering tender vegetation with a light sheet, towel, or even an upside-down bucket.
“Almost everything will come right back in. The worst that will happen in say, trees or shrubs - you might lose a little bit of flower or the leaf might get burned a little bit if it's a new leaf that's just coming out. It'll burn just a little, but it'll grow right through that and come out fine,” Carter said.
The long winter may prevent a destructive frost since many people haven't gotten out to do their spring gardening yet and few flowers are in full bloom.