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Response to February Cold Damage and Potential Botryosphaeria Development on South Georgia Blueberries

The following is largely a synopsis of information previously provided by Gerard Krewer (UGA Professor Emeritus and consultant), Bill Cline (NC State), Dave Lockwood (Univ. of TN), Danny Stanaland (retired county agent and consultant) and myself relative a suggested response to cold damage on blueberries and the potential threat of Botryosphaeria canker development on damaged tissues.  The extent of the recent damage to southern highbush blueberries may be variable throughout the state, but I suspect it is somewhat universal for blueberries grown anywhere along the same latitude as Georgia.  Based on initial reports and opinions of field specialists, this cold damage will likely have a significant negative impact on yield this year.  Without regard, the recent freezes have caused extensive tissue damage to canes, and this will need to be addressed.

Though freeze damage is immediate, there is a secondary danger of significant infection and disease development by Botryosphaeria fungi. Botryosphaeria fungi may take a while to move into cold-injured blueberry shoots, but they will likely invade them eventually to cause stem blight symptoms (mainly dieback that moves down canes to the crown).  Some fungicide applications made for Botrytis control (e.g. Pristine) may also suppress initial Botryosphaeria infections, but producers should watch plants carefully for Botryosphaeria-related stem diebacks in the spring and summer.

There will be an advantage to pruning out dead tissue in late February to mid-March; there is research-based information from North Carolina (Bill Cline) to back this up.  Widespread infection by Botryosphaeria dothidea following cold injury has been reported. Injured stems are colonized early, disease incidence increases with time and temperature, and the later you wait past mid-March to prune, the more disease you are likely to observe.  I do generally recommend a fungicide application after each day of pruning to prevent additional infections of pruning cuts. Also, do not push plants with excessive nitrogen this spring, as this might further exacerbate the situation with Botryosphaeria.

Dave Lockwood (Univ. of TN) has also advised growers to delay pruning until late winter/early spring so that they can feel relatively sure that the potential for additional cold injury is past.  He also advises holding off until one can easily see, based on bud swell or early shoot growth, where the strong, new growth will originate.  At that time, he advises pruning back to healthy wood.  Bill Cline suggests that “it is worth a special effort to remove cold-injured stems, especially on young bushes. With cold-injured basal shoots (suckers that emerge from the crown), snap them off by hand at the crown, since the brown pith often goes all the way to the crown. In controlled experiments this significantly reduced disease incidence. For cold-injured shoots higher up on older canes, prune them back to healthy green tissue.”

When pruning, producers should review the weather forecast, and I would attempt pruning when 3-4 days of dry weather (no overhead frost protection or irrigation as well) are predicted to follow.  This will also help to reduce infections on new pruning cuts, and again, we need to consider use of fungicides after each day of pruning to prevent yet more infections.

Reference

Infection of Cold-Injured Blueberry Stems by Botryosphaeria dothidea. W. O. Cline, Department of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-7616. Plant Dis. 78:1010. Accepted for publication 20 June 1994. Copyright 1994 The American Phytopathological Society. DOI: 10.1094/PD-78-1010A.

 

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About Phil Brannen

Phil Brannen is a Professor in the Plant Pathology Department at the University of Georgia. He attended the University of Georgia for his undergraduate degree in Plant Protection and Pest Management, where he also received an M.S. in Plant Pathology, followed by a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Auburn University. He has extensive experience with disease management programs in numerous cropping systems. He serves as the extension fruit pathologist for Georgia – conducting research and technology transfer for multiple fruit commodities. His blueberry efforts are directed towards developing IPM practices to solve disease issues and technology transfer of disease-management methods to commercial blueberry producers. He also teaches the graduate level Field Pathology Course, team-teaches the IPM Course, coordinates the Viticulture and Enology in the Mediterranean Region Course (Cortona, Italy), and guest lectures in numerous other courses throughout the year.