October 29, 2009 at 7:45 a.m.

Winter protection for fruiting plants

Winter protection for fruiting plants
Winter protection for fruiting plants

Several gardeners who purchased bare root fruit from us have contacted me regarding their plants' winter protection. It helps that all the perennials we sell are hardy for this area. Blueberries can withstand cold temperatures, but need protection if temperatures reach -25 degrees F. Cold winds can damage unprotected plants, as well as sunscald in late winter. Since blueberries set their fruit buds in the fall, it's important that they are protected if the winter is severe. Before I realized this, my plants were loaded with buds that fell off in the spring after a cold winter. No buds, no fruit.

The best protection for most fruits is snow and lots of it. Some of my blueberry plants are nearly four feet tall and if it's a winter with limited snow, it presents a problem. One fall I used some blankets that helped a great deal. If the plants are young and quite small consider Styrofoam cones. Be sure to put some rodent control under the cones, as the cones are a great home for rodents. Also weigh the cones down so they don't blow off the plants.

Strawberries also set their blossom buds in the fall. Exposing of these buds to temperatures even as low as 20 degrees F. can seriously reduce the yield of good-quality berries. For this reason it's good to mulch the plants before severe weather. Wait until the plants have been subjected to a few good frosts so they will harden them off.

Use straw that is free from weeds and apply to a depth of two to three inches over the entire patch. The mulch should be left on as late in the spring as possible to delay blooming. This is to protect the blossoms from that late frost we often get. Frequent checks will determine how late the mulch can safely be left on. If the leaves of the strawberry plants start to turn yellow, the mulch must be removed. In removing the mulch, lift the straw and place it between the rows. Some of the finer mulch should be left on the plants. If a late spring frost threatens the plants that are blooming, put the mulch back on the plants until the frost passes.

There isn't much written about protecting raspberries from winter damage, mainly because they don't set buds in the fall and they don't bloom until summer. I imagine the only fear would be if you plant raspberries that are not winter hardy for our area. If you have July berries prune out the plants that had berries this past summer. Next spring remove any damaged canes and prune the tips of the healthy canes.

Everbearing raspberries are somewhat different. The fall crop with this type of berry is produced on canes which fruit in the fall and may produce another crop the following spring. If only the fall crop is desired the canes can be cut to the ground early in the spring or after the ground is frozen this fall. By having only a fall crop on everbearing raspberries you may have larger and a better quality of berry.


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