April 20th-21st Spring Freeze: Impact on Fruit Crops for 2021 Season
by Amanda McWhirt, Horticulture Specialist; Ryan Neal, County Agent Benton County; Colin
Massey, County Agent Benton County; Clyde Fenton, County Agent Sebastian County; Herb
Ginn, County Agent Crawford County; Sherri Sanders, County Agent White County; Jesse
Taylor, County Agent Franklin County; Mike McClintock, County Agent Boone County;
Austin Haines, Southwest REC - April 23, 2021
So far there have been two historic cold weather events in 2021. The first was the
arctic air event during the week of February 14th, 2021 where low temperatures of 0° F to -20° F occurred on Feb 16th. After the February event we observed some losses to peaches, blueberry and blackberry
crops across the state. Unfortunately crops whose floral buds survived the February
freeze, were then blooming or setting small fruit during our recent April 20th-21st freeze event when temperatures dipped below freezing and into the mid to low 20s.
Recorded Low Temperature on Feb. 16th, 2021*
Recorded Low Temperature on April 21st-22nd, 2021*
-20 to -10° F
26, 29° F
31, 30° F
-6 to -15° F
28-30, 30° F
37, 35° F
33, N/A ° F
31, 32° F
34, 35° F
*Data from NOAA weather stations and local weather stations
Small green peach fruit with severe cold injury, resulting in fruit death. (Photo: Grower submitted, Amanda McWhirt)
Over the last few days,we have gone out and assessed buds, blooms and fruit for symptoms of cold injury in
several locations in the state. Common symptoms of cold injury are dark spots in the
center of buds, new shoots turning black or wilting and softening or darkening of
Significant losses to peaches have occurred at some locations due to the combined damage fromthe February and April freezes.
During the February freezeearly swollen peach buds were damaged across much of the state.
In some locations later maturing cultivars whose buds survived were still able to flower and set fruit. The fruit that set was than at risk for cold injury during the April freeze.
Preliminary assessmentsfollowing the April freezehave found little damage in locations where lowtemperaturesonlyreached 29-30° F or above, butnear totallosses ofsmallpeachfruit has been observedwhere the low temperatureshit28° For below(northern locations).
We expectto still have some peach crop in parts of thestatebut total volumes statewide will bereduced.
Peach fruit without cold injury. (Photo: Sherri Sanders)
Blackberry bloom not damaged by cold (left) versus one killed by frost (right). (Photo: Sherri Sanders, Lizzy Herrera and Sarah Cato)
Minimal damage to blackberries was observed following the February freeze, most growers saw
normal leaf out and flower set, however some growers experienced near total losses in areas of extreme cold.
After the April freeze growers report losses of 50-100% to primary buds and open blooms in the central and northern part of the state.
Growers in the central and southern part of the statesaw very little to no damage on blackberry (0-10% loss on primary buds).
Blackberries do have the potential for a crop on secondary buds however this crop is usually smaller and later. We will continue to monitor to see how this impacts production in areas where primary
buds were damaged.
Blackberry volumes will be lower in some parts of the state and normal in others;
the onset of harvest may be delayed where open blooms were damaged but closed buds
were saved, or where the secondary bud crop becomes the primary crop.
Blackberry buds damaged by cold (100% of buds sampled at this location had cold injury).
(Photo: Sherri Sanders, Lizzy Herrera and Sarah Cato)
Strawberry buds without cold injury (left) and with minor cold injury (right). (Photos: Lizzy Herrera and Sarah Cato)
Deep snow cover saved the strawberry crop in most areas of the state during the February
freeze,afterwardwe saw only minimal damagewereplants were not covered or the snow blew off the plants.
Following the Aprilfreezewe saw damageagainwhere plants were not covered or where bloomsor fruitwere in contact with the row cover.
In the NW corner where temperatures reached the low 20s moreseveredamageto bloomsand fruitwas observeddue to temperatures being below freezing for 5-7+ hours.This will result in some crop loss in the short and long-term.
Strawberry crops have benefited from row cover protection and statewide the crop experienced
minor damage. A lull in fruit production the 3rdweek of May might be observed in some locations due to flowers that were injured during
the April freeze.
Some graying/darkening of small green fruit where plants were not covered,
compared to normal green fruit.(Photo: Grower submitted, Amanda McWhirt)
(left) Blueberry flowers killed by cold injury (Photo: Ryan Neal); (center) Blueberry fruit and (right) blueberry blooms not impacted by cold injury (Photos: Austin Haines)
Damage following the February freeze was variabledependingon the location and cultivar.Rabbiteyeand some Southern highbushtypeshadconsiderable damage in central and northern locations.
Many blueberries were at full bloom or setting small green fruit during the April
freeze. Severe damage to bloomswas observed in the NW corner.The full impact on crop yields will not be known for a few weeks.A reduced crop to total crop loss is expected for many cultivars at some locations.
In other locations blueberry crops were not impacted bytheApril freezeand are setting a normal crop.
Grape buds with cold injury to leaves. (Photo: Lizzy Herrera and Sarah Cato)
Grapes (Table and Wine):
No damage to table and wine grapes was observed following the February freeze.
Following the April freeze,severe to moderateinjury tonewly emergedshootsand inflorescenceshas been observed at many locations in the northern and central part of the state.
The fulleffect on crop lossis still to be seenand will likely be cultivar specific in some areas.
Grapes have secondary buds that can produce a small to moderate cropdepending on the cultivar.We will continue to monitor.
Muscadine vine leafing out at the base and a lack of building out higher on the cordon. (Photo: Lizzy Herrera and Sarah
We are expecting damage. We are starting toseeplantsre-sprout from thegroundin some locations and a lack of bud break higher up the cordons which indicates damage
occurred during the February freeze. In other locations budbreak has been normal.
Will continue to monitor.Crop losses in central and northern areas is expected.
Some reports of injury to apple blooms and pear blooms resulting in significant crop loss in northern areas are still coming
No reports of injury to pecan yet, in areas where temperatures dipped below freezing and plant have new shoots and catkins emerging damage may occur.
Take home messages:
There have been significant crop losses due to cold injury in some parts of the state,
there is still potential for some of these crops to recover and produce on secondary
buds which will result in lower volumes of fruit and delayed harvests. Other locations have had minimal to no impact from cold injury.
There will still be locally available fruit crops in Arkansas in 2021, support your
local AR farmers!
What to watch for in the coming weeks:
The full extent of the cold damage will not be known for several weeks. Possible symptoms
of cold injury can include:
Fruit fails to develop and falls off
Fruit is mis-shaped due to sub-lethal injury
Secondary buds start to develop near where the primary shoot was killed. Secondary shoots are often longer in length and have fewer blooms per node.
What should I do if my crop has been damaged?
Plan to fertilize and irrigate normally, “extra” wont help at this point and if the plants have a reduced crop-load they won’t need extra fertility to grow. Excess nitrogen can result in stretched out internode length, which means fewer nodes per length of stem/cane
Normal fungicide programs for most crops should be planned for now. Dead plant tissue can be a source of inoculum for some diseases.
We will follow up with more recommendations as we know more.