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Spring Freeze and Kentucky Woodlands


by Dr. Jeff Stringer, Associate Extension Professor,
Department of Forestry, 859.257.5994


New May foliage has eliminated many of the visible effects of the spring freeze in Kentucky’s woodlands. However, the freeze set in motion conditions that will directly impact the woods this fall and could have severe effects this summer and for the next few years.

The freeze not only killed newly formed leaves but it also killed the flowers of many oaks and hickories. It is probable that there will be little, if any, white oak acorn crop this fall throughout a major portion of Kentucky. White oak acorns are preferred wildlife food for many species and the loss of this important food source will have ramifications for some wildlife populations. Barring a similar situation next year, we can expect a return to normal for white oak acorn production in 2008. The opposite is true for red oaks. The red oak acorn crop will be normal this year and will be much reduced in 2008. This is because red oak acorns take two years to develop after flowering, whereas white oak acorns take just one. Hickory crops may be significantly reduced this fall as well, eliminating another wildlife food used by several important species. The end result will be reduced nut production in Kentucky woodlands over the next two years.

The effect on acorn and hickory production will be most noticeable in the southern and western regions of the Commonwealth. As you move northwards in the state these effects will be less noticeable. Species that flower later such as our native black walnut and American beech will be impacted to a lesser degree.

A potentially hidden, but significant problem of the freeze is the reduction in vigor of our oaks. We know from past experience that when oaks lose leaves early in the growing season they are weakened. If we see droughty conditions this summer some oaks in our woodlands may succumb. Many have noticed oak mortality the last several years associated with early season defoliation by native insects. The freeze can have the same effect. Woodland owners should be ready to salvage oak trees that might die this summer if a drought occurs.

Other than reduced acorn and hickory production and the possibility of tree death if a drought occurs, there should be few other problems caused by the freeze. However, the consequences of this years freeze will be felt for the next several years.