Causes of fruit tree death over winter

Well I just got done yanking out and replacing several fruit trees which died over last winter. Last winter wasn’t all that cold or dry so it is a mystery as to why they failed to make it through. The two more mature trees I removed were a Mt Royal plum and an Orleans apple; both would have been in their four leaf this year.

When I was digging I avoided scrapping the roots so I could look for rodent or other damage. Odd thing is there was no visible rodent damage; no gnaw marks in the the bark or main roots (unlike some other trees I’ve seen, which had significant vole/gopher damage). No signs of borers or insect damage or any rot or disease. In short nothing obvious that would point to a cause of death. These trees were painted with dilute latex (last fall and before), and appeared to be fine during winter inspections, no obvious drying of the branches/twigs, etc. Now however both trees have the majority of their branches dried (no green cambium layer), and no growth on any of the branches or buds. On the apple it looks like the buds started growing but then stopped.

So my question is what could it have been? It was a very wet spring, but neither of these trees were in an area that had any standing water, and that water did not seem to effect the other fruit trees. What else might the cause(s) which killed these trees? Anyone have any ideas?

Are you the Steve in Z5 CO? If so it’s likely winter cold injury. Sometimes it’s mid winter cold. But fairly often it’s a sudden cold event in fall before the tree reaches max cold tolerance. More rarely an event in late winter say March after the tree begins to awaken.

Wet soil in winter usually doesn’t kill trees because the roots have much lower oxygen needs than during hot summer weather.

There could be something else going on because apples are very cold hardy. But I have read about large commercial apple tree losses on the front range of Rockies. Weather, mainly temperature, is too up and down. Not the steady cold found around Grand Junction, a much better fruit area.

Fruitnut is on the money. We had more tree and shrub loss in my area this year than anyone could remember. Species and varities that had shown no ill affects to our winters in the past suddenly up and died or experienced odd winter injury. We went to above normal temps with only a couple light frosts to a solid week in early november where our high never broke the freezing mark and lows were in the single digits.


I loss two 7 yrs old peaches and a 8 yrs old nectarine to a sudden cold spell in the middle of November last Winter. The temp dropped down to -8F for one night and then -4F for another couple of nights. My favorite Red Baron Peach, Elberta Queen Peach, and Snow Queen Nectarine bite the dust. Sigh!


Thanks Fruitnut. (and yes I am Steve333 Z5a in the front range foothills of the Rockies).

Now that you mention it, we did have a warm spell early in the spring, followed by a cold snap. So perhaps that did in these trees.

Besides not putting down spring fertilizers too early (which I don’t think I did this year), nothing I can think of that would help in this case.


My guess is you got the same November cold as Tony in Omaha. It hit down here as a 21F first freeze of the fall. It got the figs once again.

I too suffered quite a few tree losses- mostly apricots and peaches at various orchards I manage. Cold came gradually and lowest temps were cold compared to recent winters (until the winter before) but nothing that should have caused the amount of casualties I saw. Peaches sere killed down to the roots while apricots suffered fatal cambium injury.

The only thing I can think of for peaches, with there death right to the roots, is that we got our first subzero temps when there was no snow cover, which can be a problem, especially in wet soils or after wet autumns that drive root activity to the surface after killing lower roots.

For apricots, I have, as usual, no theory. In the east coast they are just very fragile trees and seem to die whenever the happen to feel like it.

What about the fact that the trees got hit harshly two years in a row by extremely cold winters?

The winter of 2013-14, killed some trees and probably weakened some. By the time the 2014-2015winter was over, more trees especially The weakened are goners.

That is the theory I stick with when half of my bamboo grove appeared dead this year.

Mam, if the trees grew normally after the first winter, I doubt they were weakened by it. That would be the definition of weakness as I see it and it is through vigorous growth that plants restore themselves and prepare for the next winter. I am seeing some weakened trees coming out of this winter and I’m wondering how they will look next spring.

Another thing I failed to mention is that a lot of the peach trees in my nursery that were transplanted came out of dormancy much slower than ever before. Following a test winter in the 1990’s that had low temps 10 degrees below what occurred here last winter, no such issue occurred.

My peach trees came out of dormancy much slower than everything else. Not only did they start the process of leafing out after all other trees were done, the whole process of growing out the first set of the leaves was suspiciously slow. I’m glad I kept my potted peaches inside over winter instead putting them in the ground at the end of the season. I put them in the ground this spring and they have major jump start from coming out of dormancy early rather than late. Now I have to hope next winter won’t be like the last two, else growing peaches will be a waste of time.

After having tree damage and fruit wipeout over the last 2 Springs when gradually warming weather was rudely interrupted by cold blasts, I am phasing out some of the weaker fruit trees that can’t handle those weather whiplashes as well as others did. Cases in point: Sharp Velvet poms out. Desertnyi poms in. Pakistan mulberries out. Shangri La mulberries in. Golden grapefruit out. BC2 satsumas in.

My exact experience as well AJ. My best leaf-out was the new Blazingstar I got rather late from ACN. I decided against gambling on anything earlier-ripening than that because I feel like these new cool springs and slow start summers, if it is indeed a new pattern, may not provide a large enough ripening window (was long debating Desiree or Manon, nope.)

I’m pretty sure I lost a young combo plum tree to the late April freeze where we got to 29f and it was in bloom. And I was just thinking the other day as I drove around that the intense almost ‘glowing’ green stage of spring leafout just didn’t seem to happen in the wild trees around here.