Warm temperatures and clear skies have started to bring out the blossoms in Merced's orchards, and that’s good news for local bloom lovers.
The abundance of peach and almond orchards in the county means a riot of bright pink and white blooms scenting the air for the next few weeks. For those who want to see the best and the brightest, Maxwell Norton has worked out driving routes through the orchards of the county.
"The bloom will be in full swing in the next few days," Norton, a farm advisor for the Merced County University of California Cooperative Extension. "Unless it gets cold and rainy, it should be beautiful."
Almond trees will be the first to bloom, and they have white blossoms. Apricots actually bloom before almonds, but there are very few apricot orchards in the county, Norton said, just a few trees on the Westside. Like almonds, apricots also have white blooms.
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Peaches and nectarines are the next to bloom, and they have two types of blossoms. Some have showy bright pink blossoms, and some varieties have such small blossoms that people need to walk up to the tree to see the bloom. Those orchards have an overall red appearance that can be seen from the road.
Plum trees bloom at the same time as peaches, but they have small white blossoms. There are very few plums in the county."The peak almond bloom is usually Feb. 25 through 28, plus or minus 10 days,” Norton said. "We are just a bit early this year due to the warm weather for the past several days."
Norton said peaches typically peak about March 10. Because there are different varieties of almonds that bloom at different times, almond trees can be seen in bloom for about two weeks.
"If it gets really warm, things will come on fast," Norton said. "If the weather stays cool and cloudy, the bloom will last a bit longer."
Norton has put together blossom driving tours throughout the county, and said people come from all over to see Merced County’s showy bloom.
"We take it for granted, think of it as another part of the valley," Norton said. "But Merced County at certain times of the year can be a very enchanting place."
The tours that Norton has laid out take people on roads where the blooms can be enjoyed, and also takes tourists past places like Hilmar Cheese, where a visitors’ center can be enjoyed.
“I tried to include a route where you can see a lot of blossoms, but also have a nice drive in themselves,” Norton said.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org