Winter chill and fruit trees

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Temperate perennial fruit and nut trees annually enter a dormant phase over winter. This mechanism is an evolutionary advantage which protects trees from cold weather damage by preventing the growth of cold-sensitive shoots and flowers in response to a winter warm spell. For trees to resume growth in spring this dormant phase must be broken. Perennial fruit trees break dormancy after a prescribed 'sum' of winter conditions has passed. At this point, the tree has determined that winter has finished and will begin to flower in response to warm temperatures. This sum of cold weather to break dormancy is known as winter chill. The amount of winter chill required to break dormancy, the chill requirement, differs by fruit type and variety.

How does temperature influence winter chill?

Accumulation of winter chill to break dormancy is largely a temperature dependent process. The relationship of different temperatures and temperature regimes to dormancy breaking are varietal-specific but there are some general aspects:

  • freezing temperatures do not contribute to dormancy breaking;
  • there are optimum temperatures for the accumulation of winter chill;
  • temperatures either side of the optimum decrease in ability to contribute to winter chill;
  • high temperatures can undo previously accumulated chill; and
  • cycling moderate temperatures with effective chilling temperatures enhances the accumulation of winter chill.

Winter chill in Australia

Click on the map for the winter chill received in specific temperate fruit growing regions across Australia.

Chill 50th percentile 300x300

Want to know more?       

For further information refer to the following fact sheet .....

Fruit tree annual cycle thumbnail  Winter chill and fruit trees fact sheet 

Want to calculate the chill at your orchard?

Utilise the following tool to calculate the chill at your orchard .....

Full bloom pome fruit thumbnail   Chill portion calculator for Australian fruit trees

Regional Chill Accumulation

Cumulative Chill Portions 2013 and 2014