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Frost on strawberry leaves

A cold front is predicted and threatens to deliver bitter cold temperatures for some parts of Alabama during the overnight hours of Tuesday, November 12. In north and central Alabama, temperatures of 20°F and 24°F, respectively, are being predicted while temperatures in south Alabama are predicted to be in the low 30s.

Strawberries are cold hardy plants and typically do not require protection from low temperatures unless plants have blooms or developing fruit. However, applying cold protection to strawberries ahead of the predicted cold front might be a useful option.

  1. The crown, which is the actively growing portion of the plant, can withstand temperatures in the teens (Fahrenheit). However, most of the information that we have on cold hardiness in strawberries is based on plants that were well established and acclimated to cold temperatures prior to freezing weather. Cold acclimation occurs in a plant after it has been exposed to cold but not damaging temperatures for a particular amount of time. This exposure to the cold enables the plant to withstand even lower temperatures to which it will be exposed later. In our state, many growers have planted their strawberries recently within the last two weeks – even as early as a few days ago. Strawberries planted late during the planting season might not have become acclimated to the cold to prevent any damage.
  2. When it comes to cold tolerance, not all strawberry cultivars are alike. Cold hardiness is variable among varieties and depends on the breeding program and the parentage of the particular strawberry variety in question. For example, varieties such as ‘Albion’ and others in this pedigree have been observed to be less tolerant to cold than many other varieties currently in production.

Row covers work by trapping heat that is absorbed by the ground during the day and radiated at night. Row covers can increase temperatures underneath the cover by as much as 8 degrees above ambient temperature depending on the thickness of the row cover. Contact a garden supply store or nursery for information on ordering row cover.

Row cover should be removed when low temperatures no longer threaten. If a cold front is predicted to last for several days, it is advisable to apply a fungicide such as Captan prior to covering the strawberry plants.

Applying row cover to plants that are not cold acclimated is a practical option to protect the plants from potential cold damage until more information is available. If nothing else, row cover can provide heat units to the plant to improve the growth, protect recently planted strawberries to minimize plant stress and improve strawberry production in the spring. Other than labor, there is no downside in applying row cover to protect strawberries not acclimated to low temperatures.

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