|SU Ag Center Area Agent for St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes, Ahmad Robertson (pictured on the left in a black jacket), analyzes strawberries with Tangipahoa grower Frank Arnoe during a recent farm visit.|
Baton Rouge, La. – To have a rich strawberry harvest in the spring, the berries should be well protected against frost. With this season’s plunging overnight temperatures, it is important to consider implementing a freeze protection plan for your strawberry buds and blossoms.
Temperature control is important during the winter and early spring when the flowers are susceptible to frost. Tangipahoa growers aren’t taking any chances as they have an action plan of laying out row covers this winter. During recent farm visits with LSU Ag Center Specialists, Drs. Raj Singh and Kiki Fontenot, we learned how commercial vegetable producers such as the Liuazza’s, Faust’s, Mendez’s, Arnoe’s, Capace’s, and Holmes are protecting their crops and using integrated pest and disease management practices.
Strawberries are grown annually in Louisiana and have been an important horticulture crop for centuries. Both Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes are traditional commercial production areas for the crop. These commercial growers started harvesting their berries in Mid-November. Production usually slows up during the winter and peaks again in March and April, just in time for the annual Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.
It is recommended that strawberry growers cover their plants whenever the temperature drops below 35 degrees. Currently, Louisiana commercial and home strawberry farmers should be protecting their green fruit and buds with row covers. You may take the following steps to protect your plants from freezing:
- · Place row covers, made of light polypropene fabric, directly on top of the plants to protect the fruit and blooms from frost. The heavier the cover, the more protection they will provide. The covers work by trapping heat during the day, which promotes plant development and earlier harvest. The covers should be removed during the day when temperature rises above 40 degrees to allow pollination, pest control, and prevention of leaf scorch.
- · Black plastic and pine straw mulch are also great management practices that can be used on a farm operation.
- · Also plan ahead to manage cold injury risk and obtain reliable weather forecast with necessary parameters.
During one of the farm visits, Tangipahoa growers Mr. Frank Arnoe and Guy Capace, reminisced about the how they used sprinklers in the late 80’s and mid 90’s to protect their crop and having to stay up all night to monitor their berries.The practice of using sprinklers as a method of freeze protection is effective, but it must be used correctly. The idea is to slowly build ice over the plant or row covers during the period when temperatures are below freezing. As ice is formed some heat is released to the plant's surface and the surrounding air, due to fusion.
To do this, sprinklers must be turned on before temperatures are at 34-35 degrees. Use low volume sprinklers to apply irrigation throughout the night to build an ice cover over the plants.
The farmers said they were happy when row covers (what they referred to as new technology) was available to purchase and improved their production.
Below are some freeze terms and information on what can happen to plants if they are not protected.
Freeze Terms What happens without protection?
Frost – temperatures around 30 to 32 degrees little or no damage
Light freeze – 28 to 30 degrees light damage mostly to foliage
Hard freeze – mid-twenties kills more tender tropical plants, substantial damage to others
Severe freeze – low twenties major damage or death to virtually all tropical plants
Catastrophic freeze – teens death to most tropical plants
For additional information, contact the St. Helena or Tangipahoa Parish Extension Service Offices by calling (985) 748-5462, (225) 222-4136, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Article written by Ahmad Robertson, Sr., Area Agent for St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes.)