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by Amanda McWhirt - December 18, 2019
Amanda McWhirt shares her report on the Veteran's Day (Nov. 11th-12th, 2019) cold
snap and the potential damage to fruit crops in Arkansas.
On Tuesday November 12th, 2019 many across Arkansas woke up to temperatures 40-50°F cooler than the previous
Twitter Post from the National Weather Service on Tuesday Nov 12th, 2019 stating that the state had massive temperature drops of over 40 degrees.
The low temperatures across the state fell well below freezing and in many cases set
new low temperature records for that day. The temperatures remained cool throughout
that day and into Wednesday.
National Weather Service Posted Temperatures on Wednesday Nov 13th, 2019 at 3:15am
This event is of concern because of the drastic temperature change and that the un-seasonably
cold temperatures occurred before many of our fruit crops had been completely acclimated
to cold temperatures or had gone dormant.
Once properly acclimated to cold temperatures many small fruit crops are cold hardy
down to the low teens or below. See here for a chart of temperatures at which different fruit crops may experience cold damage.
The process of cold acclimation in plants generally starts as the daylength shortens
and colder temperatures near freezing occur. These events signal to plants to start
the process of acclimating for cold temperatures and preparing for dormancy.
In some areas of the state the Veterans day freeze was the first major cold event
many places experienced. This means that many plants may not have acclimated yet and
may have been damaged even though the temperatures were above that which plants can
normally withstand during dormancy.
Strawberry field left un-covered, some leaf burn can be observed
Potential for damage to strawberry crops
The small fruit crop most likely to have experienced damage is newly planted strawberries.
Strawberry crowns that are fully acclimated will experience damage at temperatures
around 10°F or below. Leaves can be damaged around 22° F or below. Most strawberries
had only been planted in late September or early October. The Northwest corner of
the state had an earlier freeze that likely helped plants begin the cold acclamation
process but other parts of the state had not had much cold weather yet.
The early occurrence of the cold weather also meant not all growers had their row
covers ready or could only cover parts of their fields. Additionally, initial forecasts
of rain occurring around the event meant there was a risk of applying a row cover
and having it freeze to the plants which provides no protection and can severely damage
Starting a week after the deep freeze occurred and continuing through last week we
cut strawberry crowns at four locations in AR to assess if any damage occurred. Below
are my observations for each location:
Strawberry Crown showing no signs of cold damage, notice how the entire crown is a
clear ivory white color. (Fayetteville, AR)
Clarksville (Measured low Temperature 16° F on 11/12/19)
Hope (Measured low Temperature 14° F on 11/12/19)
Strawberry crown with major pith darkening due to cold damage. The lower cambium and pith is still white which
may mean the plant will recover and survive, but will have a significant yield reduction. (Hope, AR)
Most likely some yield loss will occur, but the severity is difficult to predict.
Strawberries in November should be doing the important work of building crowns and
initiating floral buds in the crown for the next spring. Damage to the crown therefore
means a likely reduction in the crown growth, floral bud initiation and ultimately
Much of this depends on where in crown the damage is observed and the severity of
Typically, if damage occurs it starts at the top of the crown where the crown is more
exposed and then moves downward through the pith into deeper parts of the crown. The
pith is the middle part of the crown where the plant develops its floral buds and
Alternatively, damage to the crown can be more severe if the vascular tissue (cambium)
AKA the plumbing for the plant is damaged. In the pictures below the cambium can be
seen as the two clear white lines on either side of the crown. If this part of the
crown is damaged the effect is more likely to result in severe reductions in yield
and even plant death.
Crowns with minimal levels of damage to the pith will likely recover and still produce
We will have to wait and see what happens this coming spring 2020.
Strawberry crown with considerable pith darkening due to cold damage. The damage appears
to extend beyond the cambium. This plant is likely to experience yield reduction. (Fayetteville, AR)
Strong and healthy plants tend to be more resilient and able to withstand cold temperatures.
Much of this goes back to planting on time. Late planted crops didn’t get much time
to grow off before the freeze event and will likely produce reduced yields compared
to crops planted on-time.
Have row covers ready early in the fall and be aware of differences in cold susceptibility
between varieties and locations in the field.
From the current survey it appears that Ruby June and Fronteras were more susceptible
to cold injury during this freeze than some of the other varieties we looked at. This
may be due to many other factors, but it is something we will continue to investigate.
We will be doing cold damage assessments soon in our variety trial that was not able
to be covered. We will report if we see any differences in susceptibility to cold
injury among the 9 varieties we have planted.
I also looked at the buds of peaches, blueberries and blackberries and did not see
major damage to buds. It is likely that we may not see the full extent of the damage from this cold event
on many woody plants until the spring. Bark splitting is likely to occur on thin barked plants. Dr. Jim Robbins explains
some of this here.
Strawberry crown with some pith darkening near the top of the crown due to cold damage.
Notice the two white lines on the left and right sides of the crown, this is the cambium
and has not been damaged. This plant will likely recover (Fayetteville, AR)
Strawberry crown with damage in the terminal inflorescence, but no major pith darkening
due to cold damage. (Clarksville, AR)
Blackberry buds cut open and found to be green so no cold damage is suspected yet. (Fayetteville, AR)