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Let's discuss timely concerns that are generating a lot of calls to Utah State University Extension offices.

Weather and fruit treesSo far, 1989 has brought the lowest temperatures in many years. Low temperatures brought higher fuel bills, frozen water pipes and created car troubles. Fruit growers are greatly concerned about the possible cold damage to trees. Unfortunately, regardless of the outlook, there's little to do now but wait to see the effects of low temperatures. The results of the season's wrath will dictate tree-pruning recommendations.

It's an almost foregone conclusion that peaches and nectarines have suffered bud damage. In colder areas, the trees themselves may even be affected. If those trees need some large limbs removed for shaping, make those cuts after warmer weather arrives in mid-March or so. But save the detailed pruning of new growth until later. See what Jack Frost leaves you in the way of blossoms and fruit set.

Cold weather can kill flower buds. Less severe effects will leave the petals intact but kill the immature embryo. At first appearance, a normal crop might be expected. But a closer examination will disclose a brown flower center, instead of a greenish one. This bud has no chance of bearing fruit.

You can learn the extent of potential damage to your own trees. Peaches and nectarines have received the winter chilling requirements that satisfy the rest period. Cut some branches that include vigorous 1988 growth. (These crops only bloom on 1-year-old wood.) Gather them on a day that's above freezing and place them in a container of water like a bouquet. Keep them out of sunlight but in a bright location away from hot air ducts. This treatment should force flower buds to open so you can get a look at petals and pistils.

Apple and pear trees are much hardier and less likely to have been damaged by cold weather. Whether the cold weather will affect future crops is yet to be determined.

Cherries, both sweet and tart, are intermediate in cold tolerance and some damage is expected. Remember, with all fruit trees a full crop of fruit can be produced with a relatively small percentage of healthy blossoms. Mother Nature may even take care of a lot of those tough decisions, such as: Which of the developing fruits must I pull off so those that remain are of a decent size?

We'll have pruning demonstrations on March 11, 18 and 25 in various parts of the country to be announced later.

-Save that flower - The showy amaryllis flower stalk is fading and most of its owners would like to see a return performance. Here's the process that works for me:

As the tall stalk withers, clip it off at its base. Leaves should be emerging. Keep the pot in a bright, warm location to maintain their growth. Water it so the soil doesn't get too dry and feed it every couple of weeks with a half-strength soluble fertilizer.

About May 10, when danger of frost is past, set the plants, pot and all in a part of the garden, where they will continue to grow with lots of light, water and regular fertilization. Among my roses this has worked well. Last year they were too close to spreading grape vines. The leaves didn't get enough sunlight, and 1989 flower size was reduced.

About mid-September, lift the pots and place them in an area where they receive no more water (like the corner of a garage). In late October, clip off leaves and put them in a cool, dark basement corner to provide a rest period. Anytime after Dec. 1, you can repot them in a well-drained planting mix to begin the blooming cycle again.

Overwatering at this stage will promote leaves before the flower stalk. Bottom heat, (a water heater for example) will encourage quicker flower development.

For detailed instructions on this procedure get our amaryllis fact sheet for 10 cents. Stop by the office, 2001 S. State Street, Room S-1200, Salt Lake City, Utah 84190-3350 or send a dime plus stamped, self-addressed envelope and it will be mailed to you.

Coming events

-Feb. 22. Tree fruit workshop: selection, care and pruning. Room S-1010, South Building, Salt Lake County Government Center, (CGC), 7 p.m., enter the northeast glass doors.

-Feb. 28. Landscape design workshop: site development, plant selection and arrangement, structures, etc. by Larry Sagers, my co-worker. Granger Bishop's Storehouse, 3648 S. 7200 West, 7 p.m.

-March 1. Same topic. CGC, address above. Choose from a 2 or 7 p.m. session.

-March 2-5: Home and Garden Show, Salt Palace. Visit our booth to get fact sheets and answers to questions. Garden lectures 2-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Garden panel, Sunday 4 p.m.

All these events are free and open to the public.