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Winter and Spring Freeze Injury in Fruit Crops

By Mike Reeves, REA Commercial Horticulture

North Alabama fruit crops can be damaged by severe cold in mid-winter or by Spring freezes and frost.  2014 has been a year where we have had to deal with both.  In north Alabama, low temperatures were in the single digits several nights from December through February and resulted in some injury to fruit crops.  The damage in most cases was minor, but it still left fruit growers to deal with the effects.

Strawberry growers used “row covers” to protect their plants during these extreme low temperatures.  Still, while the temperatures were not cold enough to result in crown damage, some of the foliage was injured.  Where row covers were not used, the injury was worse.  Before new growth, the growers had to remove the dead foliage to avoid disease issues (Botrytis) later in the growing season.

Figs sustained freeze injury when several inches of the terminal shoots were frozen.  Growers who are sure they have freeze damage can now wait to see where the new growth starts on the plant and then cut the dead plant parts back to that point.  The figs should recover well and produce a good crop.

Peaches and other stone fruits lost some dormant buds as a result of the extreme weather, but made it through without much problem.  However, peaches, plums, certain apples and blueberries had more damage from the Spring freeze that occurred on March 26th, because they were well into bloom stage.

Growers who produce peaches, plums and apples can afford to lose some fruit because the fruit tree can have over ten times the number of blooms needed for a full crop.  If some of the blooms are lost, that can be “work saved” for the grower because he would have had to hand thin the fruit, anyway.  However, during this particular freeze event, some varieties that were fully bloomed lost too many and will only produce a portion of a crop.  Growers should not fertilize these trees as much as the ones with a full crop because they will put on excess growth.

Overall, the fruit crops around north Alabama look good and hopefully we won’t have to deal with “Old Man Winter” anymore until next year. 


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