Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Frost 2012 damage to blackberry crop

I was able to visit blackberry growers earlier this week in Western NC.  The current situation is very complicated. I saw a lot of flowers and buds with blackened centers (Figure 1). The center part of the female part of the flower, (technically the pistal), it is attached to the receptacle. Both of these flower parts form the blackberry fruit that we eat, and....both were damaged.

Temperatures. Temperatures dipped to 25-27 F degrees and stayed there for 4-6 hours depending on location the first night, but temperatures likely varied due to location as was evidenced in variation in the amount of damage we saw. (In 2007, it got to 20 F and was widespread across the entire state, damage was severe and killed the entire fruiting shoot).

Crop stage and location. According to most growers, the crop was about 2 weeks early, so all cultivars were well ahead of their normal schedule and many were flowering.   Natchez was at or near full bloom and Ouachita had some open flowers and many flowers that were at popcorn stage. Navaho was behind with just a few open flowers. However, these stages varied depending on the location of the field, location within the field (higher spots had less damage), and location within the canopy (upper wire had more damage than lower wire). 

Crop damage. Damage ranged from very little to severe depending on the location  and cultivar.  In some cases, just the king flower was dead (Figure 2). In other cases, flowers only in the upper portion of the canopy were damaged. I estimate that in some severe situations, there was 80-90% damage and in others only 30-40% damage. 

As I mentioned above and in earlier posts, the 2007 freeze killed the entire primary shoot and the secondary buds emerged and were able produce a crop. However, this year only flowers were damaged, the primary shoots are still viable and they will likely remain attached to the canes. This will likely inhibit the growth of the secondary buds and the crop that they would produce. 

Figure 1. Blackberry flower after 2012 frost. Photo courtesy of Amy Lynn Albertson.

Figure 2. Navaho fruiting shoot. Area circled shows king fruit dead, but subbordinate flowers are viable. 
What to do this year? There are a couple of options, these are some that come to mind at this time.
  • You could just wait and see what happens, some buds lower on the primary shoot may not have sustained damage as is seen in figure 2. They will produce fruit, in general the tips of the shoots have the most fruit, often 3-5, while lower down the shoots, only one fruit per node is produced. 
  • Prune off primary shoots. You would have to do this close to the cane, but be careful not to prune or damage the 2nd bud (leave approx 1/4 inch). This MAY allow the secondary buds to develop.
  • Prune out the entire canes, removing all the dead flowers and the canes that they are attached to. 
  • In all cases, maintain a fungicide program, in the first two scenarios, you will have more dead tissue out there that will be susceptible to disease infection.  
Future? Wind machines or helicopters may help if inversions are present. Helicopters or wind machines are often used in peach orchards and grape vineyards. When inversions are present these machines are able to mix the air,  bringing the warmer air down and mixing it with the cooler air, and keeping the temperatures above lethal stages. 
We are also evaluating a movable trellis. This trellis can shift positions. So when it gets cold, the trellis can be laid down and row covers can be placed over the entire row. Finally, we can hope that we are not 2 weeks early in the upcoming years. The earliness of this years crop really elevated the amount damage we saw.

1 comment:

  1. Here in Nashville, the temperature only went as low as 32 degrees farhenheit. I also have Nachtez thornless blackberries aproximately two weeks ahead of their normal pollination and fruiting stage. As you say, the top green fruits were blackened by the frost, but the lower and south facing fruits were undamaged. Thankyou for the tip to prune off the damaged fruit. I would say that 80% of my berries were still viable. The Apache blackberry variety that I have was just starting to bloom, and suffered very little damage.