Plasticulture Strawberry Crop Status in Southern Indiana – Vegetable Crops Hotline

Plasticulture Strawberry Crop Status in Southern Indiana

Strawberry growers are at the forefront of the battle against spring frost/freeze challenges. This task undoubtedly is getting more complicated with the current weather.

We will have a few cold nights next week with forecasted temperatures around the middle 20s °F in Vincennes. Strawberry growers in Southern Indiana are considering whether to implement frost/freeze protection on plasticulture strawberries.

During my recent visits to several plasticulture fields in southern Indiana. I observed varying stages of crop development. The most advanced crops have reached the popcorn stage, while others are at the tight bud stage or have recently recovered from the winter. Although early open blooms were observed during my visits, they are unlikely to develop into viable fruit.

It is important to note that different flowering stages exhibit varying tolerances to cold temperatures. Fully open strawberry flowers cannot withstand temperatures below 32°F, popcorn stage flowers can endure temperatures as low as 26°F, and tight buds can tolerate temperatures in the lower 20s°F.

For fields with crops entering the popcorn stage, I recommend covering them with floating row covers if farmers have the floating row covers handy. I do not think there is a high chance those flowers are in danger, but cover in case the temperatures are lower than expected. I do not foresee the upcoming temperatures posing a threat to fields with crops in earlier growth stages than those with popcorn-stage flowers.

In a previous article, I discussed how the timing of removing row covers can impact crop development stages. My suggestion is to uncover the fields soon after the extremely cold days have passed. Then, I was asked whether winter protection is absolutely necessary for plasticulture strawberries in southern Indiana.

In the past winter, we tested the idea at the Southwest Purdue Agricultural Center, where the second-year plasticulture strawberries were left uncovered throughout the winter. The plants survived well in the winter, and without the winter covering, the plant development stage was delayed. This delay may potentially reduce the risk of spring frost and freeze damage. However, further evaluation over multiple years is necessary to comprehensively understand the advantages and disadvantages of winter protection for plasticulture strawberries in this region.

Due to the impact of climate change, many longstanding agricultural practices need to be reassessed. As we navigate these changes, we will have to continuously evaluate and adapt farming practices; strawberry production would be an example in this case.

Consider reading this article

Strawberry Spring Frost Protection—Considerations in March, previously published in issue 715, March 13, 2023.

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