Freezing Weather: An Automatic Insect Deterrent?

2/8/2018 - 2:26:45 PM


Freezing Weather: An Automatic Insect Deterrent?

With the fluctuation of temperatures this winter, you may be wondering how many insects we’ll see in the spring. During an uncommonly cold winter, an often heard sentiment is, “HA! Fewer insects in the spring!” Such a declaration might produce some warm fuzzies, but is a cold, cold winter really a reliable pest deterrent?

Not really. Also, the question of insects, though important, is just one aspect of tree care. When it comes to fruit tree health, there’s much more going on than shooing away bugs (more on that later). So, why can’t we say, unequivocally, that harsh winters will be a major insect deterrent? Because, insects have built in survival tactics…

Insects react to cold weather in three different ways: hibernation, migration, or death.

  • Hibernation - This dormant period called diapause allows insects to slow their metabolism, conserving energy and reviving when temperatures rise again. Some insects will go into one of two types. Freeze Tolerance is enabled by an antifreeze protein. Part of their cellular tissue, it prevents harmful ice crystals from forming. However, the majority of insects employ Freeze Avoidance, which of course means that they simply move to warmer areas--piles of leaves, under bark, or your home.
  • Migration - Some insects, e.g., Monarch Butterflies, make a one-way trip south and a new generation makes its way north at the right time. Conversely, dragonflies and other insects, are much less deliberate. Their daily activity includes seeking warmer climes, which means they always end up somewhere warm and comfy.
  • Death - Before dying, the last thing they do is reproduce. It’s just another part of their natural cycle. They spend their final days laying eggs in sheltered areas or providing their larvae with food and shelter to survive the winter.


So is “Not really,” the right answer to the harsh winter question? An AgPro article states that “...[it’s] not so much a matter of if insects can survive as it is how many insects will survive.” These insect behaviors, along with many other variables, must be taken into account when designing an IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Accounting for both threatening and beneficial insect populations, is just one part of our Orchard Manager’s holistic approach to tree and soil care.

It is true that a harsh winter can reduce the number of harmful insect generations we might see during a growing season. And, there are ways to press this advantage (removal of overwintering havens, etc.), but a harsh winter shouldn’t be characterized as a “Big Win” in pest control. Rather, as a naturally occurring phenomena, it fits in nicely with our land centered farming practices. It’s cause and effect. Healthy fruit trees are the “effect” of a full range of intentional “causes.”

In keeping with our history and the approach we’ve adapted in every aspect of our business, Kauffman’s favors a stewardship driven work ethic, an attitude that drives everything we do. This attitude is no less true in how we care for our trees. To learn more, take a look at our Land Stewardship & Farming Practices page. It’s fascinating!



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