Skip to main content
Over the Garden Fence

Winter Temperatures, Flower Buds and Rabbits

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Cold weather has already given peach trees in the home orchard a knock down punch for 2014. When temperatures reach 10 degrees, peach flower buds start to die. For every degree below -10 degrees, we lose another 10% of what was left until all the peach flower buds have been killed. The foliage buds are able to withstand these colder temperatures so the peach trees live on to fruit another day. Like other fruit trees, peaches produce flower buds every year. It is just a gamble whether or not we have severe temperatures during the winter. In our area, it is common to only have peaches every 3-5 years. Those home orchardists that have great locations for their peaches get a crop more frequently. Home orchardists will not have to worry about the apple crop in 2014. Apples are the hardiest of our fruit trees here in Northern Illinois. You might expect some tip damage, especially if there was any late season growth.

The majority of our ornamental flowering trees and shrubs will also be able to give us a good bloom show this spring. A few plants will be questionable. If forsythia is in your landscape, flower buds above the snow line are likely damaged. Flower buds covered by our snow will be protected and will bloom. This is referred to as a "Snow Skirt" of bloom. Redbuds may also be damaged with winter dieback, as would flowering dogwood if you are lucky enough to have an established plant.

Other plants that we could expect to be damaged will be the broad-leaved evergreens like holly and rhododendron.

The cold temperatures have not stopped the rabbits from feeding on our plants and that damage has moved up into canopies of shrubs and higher on the trunk of our ornamental and fruit trees. The many inches of snow has put more tender branches within easy reach of the hungry rabbits. If there is good part to this story, it is that with the deep snow, rabbits have not been able to feed on plants near the soil line where they often girdle and kill our plants. If you have fenced out rabbits to keep them away, check out if there is still at least a foot of fence visible. If not, walk down the outside of the fence line leaving a deep drench or use a snow blower to do that. Later, as the snow melts be sure you do not have a rabbit trapped inside your fencing! Rabbits have found places to hide out all winter long and those plants closest will be heavily damaged or even eaten down to the ground. Given the winter weather we are having, expect just about anything this spring out in the landscape.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.