Suggestions on Managing “Plant Size” When You Do Field Sanitation Work in Jan / Early Feb (1/22/16)

— Written By Barclay Poling
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PHOTOS FROM MY WINTER SEASON “FIELD WALK” ON MON (1/18) IN EASTERN NC, TUE (1/19) in Piedmont NC, and Wed (1/20) in York, SC

full size Cam(NORTH CAROLINA, FAISON) Figure 1. Do you think “plants are too large” in this photo  taken on Monday, Jan 18? These Camarosa fresh dugs were planted in the first week of October,  2015.

Dear Growers, Agents, Agronomists & Others,

Before the snow and ice moved into our region yesterday and today (Thur/Fri), I had the opportunity on Mon-Wed to visit several farms in North Carolina and South Carolina. In each of these farm visits, the topic of conversation quickly turned to the question of how best to manage strawberry plants that may be too large in size?

cottle fieldFig. 1. At first glance, I could understand why this grower (Ron Cottle) had some concerns about “plant size” – as you look down these rows you can see that these Camarosa fresh dugs (set first week Oct) are just about touching in the row (he did recently treat the annual rye-grass in middles, and you could see tips of grass turning color).

before pruneFig. 2. Close-up of Camarosa plant in same field.

crownFig. 3. On this plant, we removed all the older leaves, and then “dug” the plant to examine its  whole branch crown structure.

crowns 4 Fig. 4. We then counted 4 excellent branch crowns (two to left of main crown, and two to right). I commented to Ron how very desirable it is to have 3-4 branch crowns (that number of good crowns indicates very good yield potential & good fruit size). I suspect Ron would have been happier with just 3  branch crowns per plant at this time of year, but, this is not a problem situation.  If we had counted  6-8 branches, it would be worrisome.

To help avoid any possible problem with excess plant size this spring,  we did talk with Ron about a strategy (for this late Jan/early Feb) of removing  more winter leaves than normal (Fig. 5).

after pruneFig. 5. In this photo of the same plant as shown in Fig. 2, we removed nearly all of the fully expanded leaves  with the exception of one larger leaf in upper center of photo. No doubt, we could have left another 3-4 of the older, healthy leaves. But, with concerns about somewhat larger plants this spring during bloom and harvest,  I advised Ron to consider removing most all of the older leaves.

after prune IIFig. 6. A side  view of a second plant we pruned. Again, we removed most of the older leaves as well as any dead flower parts. No worry! In  another month, this plant will be fully leafed out again!

Don’t remove those healthy winter leaves on smaller plants!

In years past, I have advised Ron and other  growers to NOT to remove the older, fully green healthy leaves. But, in those years, Ron  had smaller plants that might have an average of 2+ branch crowns per plant.

We know from experience that with smaller plants, it is NOT a good idea to remove the healthy, expanded leaves in late winter. This is because removal of these fully expanded, green leaves will retard plant development in spring.

But, in a scenario with larger than normal plants, there could be some plant size management benefits from removing these older leaves. We know when the weather warms, these larger plants can really take off! I saw an example of this in Florida just a little more than a week ago (Fig 7).

large field flFig. 7. The Radiance plants shown in this field are perfectly sized for this time in winter in FL. In just another 2-3 weeks, when warmer temperatures return, these rows will have a more “filled-in” look. Just imagine how the plants shown in Fig. 8 will look in 2-3 weeks!

Fl largeFig. 8. Same variety as Figure 7 (Radiance), but the plants shown in this photo are already completely filled-on, and spraying and harvest of these plants will become even more difficult (impossible?) in just a few more weeks!

So, why are we removing some of the healthy winter leaves this year?

By removing more of the winter leaves on larger plants in the mid-South this year, our hope is to  reduce plant size this spring. The goal is to have plants like those shown in Fig. 7, not Fig. 8, in the early fruiting period in April. All of the leaves on plants shown in Fig. 7 have excellent exposure to the sun (compared to Fig. 8) and that shows up in a sweeter tasting berry! Further, the fruit produced by plants such as those shown in Fig. 7 will have better appearance as well. Dense plant canopies will not only “hurt flavor” but a “strawberry hedgerow” like that shown in Fig. 8 will cause a lot of misshapen fruit due to poorer air circulation –  don’t ever underestimate the importance of good air movement for strawberry pollination and fruit set.

Bottom-line:  With better air movement around each strawberry plant, a  lot of “good stuff” can happen … like better pollination and fruit set! With dense, “strawberry hedgerows” you can expect a lot of  rough looking, less flavorful fruit in the early season!

Next stop: Greensboro, NC (Tuesday)

At Kenneth Rudd’s place on Tuesday morning, we first looked at his California cutoffs – in the photo below you can see some Camarosa cutoffs – these are generally not planted until sometime towards the end of the first week in October, or beginning of second week in October.

rudd cutoffFig. 9. Cutoffs of Camarosa – these are significantly smaller in plant size than the photo of this same variety in Figure 1. No leaf pruning is ever recommended on plants of this size.

Cam set end SeptFig. 10. Plugs of Camarosa on same farm (Rudd) that were set end of Sept. These plants are significantly larger than cutoffs in Fig. 9. However, with the somewhat variable plants size, I would be cautious about doing a lot of leaf pruning. I would not remove any of the older green leaves on the two smaller  plants on the  left side of the row. I would definitely be removing all dead flowers on all plants.

Larger Albion plants require leaf pruning

bob hall farmFig. 11. At the farm of Bob Hall’s in York, SC, we arrived just in time to see his Albion plants before sunset. large albion Fig. 12. Larger Albion plant before  leaf pruning.

albion pruneFig. 13. Albion plant after pruning. The grower said this is how he will be doing the leaf pruning on all of his Albion plants that were cropped in the fall. He sees this procedure as critical for botrytis management in the spring.

Final stop in China Grove, NC (Wed)

In China Grove we stopped off at Patterson Farms, and met with Randall. I rather enjoyed this photo of Randall under the cover (that’s him with both arms raised in middle):

randallFig. 14. I still don’t know how Randall managed to raise both of his arms in this way – he recently cracked a rib!

under cover closeFig. 15. Camarosa plants beneath 1.2 oz cover (applied  early Nov. and left on).

no cover patetrsonFig. 16. Same farm, different field. This Camarosa field had no cover all winter. None of us could see where the plant size in the uncovered field was any less than the covered fields, and it looked to me that the uncovered Cams were perhaps a little larger! Yes, there will be a need for some field sanitation here to remove dead blooms and some dead leaves. BUT, I would not remove any of the healthy green leaves.

closeup no coverFig. 17. Close-up of Camarosa plant with no cover this winter – some “yellowing” on newest leaves was evident. Iit got to 10 F the other morning!

 Related articles on this website from years past:

1) Brief update on farm visit today and my thinking on critical temperatures of non-emerged flower buds (2:54 p.m., Wed., 2/11/15)

2) Not out of winter’s grip yet – Site visit to VA Beach – An idea for row covers in early March (Feb. 28, 2014)