Small Fruit Strategies After a Hurricane

Storm damage to small fruits has shown itself in different ways, depending on crop growth habit as well as proximity to the storm. For instance, wind was the most destructive element for most fruit trees and vine crops, while too much water, in some instances salt water, adversely affected other crops. There are numerous reports of newly planted strawberries on plastic simply being pulled from their planting holes by the wind. Other growers had plantings underwater for many hours, resulting in plant loss.

Following are suggestions intended to help fruit growers evaluate their damage and take whatever corrective action is possible.

  1. Where wind damage was significant, pruning should be as light as possible. However, if large areas of cambium are exposed, the plant probably will not survive without attention. Make clean cuts to minimize the exposed cambium area. If the plant can be saved, several growing seasons may be needed to retrain.

  2. Many plants that are leaning or uprooted can be reset if the root ball is intact. Once they are reset, they should be secured with stakes to immobilize them.

  3. Dikes, terraces, or raised planting beds that were altered need to be reshaped to protect the area, cover exposed roots, or provide a medium for new root growth. Use the smallest equipment possible to accomplish the job in order to minimize compaction and reduce further root damage.

  4. If strawberry plants can be secured in the next 10 days, most plastic- culture plantings should be replanted. The most expensive inputs - irrigation, plastic mulch, and fumigation - are still intact, while plant costs are relatively small compared to these.

  5. Premature defoliation caused by the tremendous wind speeds will weaken fruits. Defoliation coupled with root damage will cause additional stress because the root system serves as a tremendous storage reservoir for carbohydrates manufactured by the leaves. Without this reservoir of carbohydrates to call on for energy during the winter, the plants may be saved in the short run only to be killed during the winter. Once the top damage has been pruned out and after the first freeze, apply nitrogen in a complete fertilizer at the rate of 30 pounds actual N per acre. This will help the plant start new root growth, which will continue during the winter as long as the soil temperature is above 45 degrees F.

  6. Soil concentrations of 3,000 ppm soluble salt will make fruit culture very difficult. However, some fruits are much more salt tolerant than others. Grapes, figs, pomegranates, and pecans are examples of fruits that will not be hurt by increased salt concentrations as readily as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. If your soil salt concentration is high, irrigate frequently to help reduce the buildup of salt following evaporation. Test all irrigation water for salinity. If irrigation ponds have been contaminated, pump them out and fill with clean river or well water. Rainfall, while complicating other cleanup activities, aids in flushing the soil.

If the sodium content is 250 ppm or more, internal drainage problems will occur. This can be corrected somewhat by the use of gypsum (calcium sulfate, 18 percent sulphur, 20 percent calcium) as a soil additive. Apply at the rate of 2 ounces (2 3/4 tons per acre) of gypsum per square feet of area and immediately irrigate to move the material into the soil profile.