In August, I had the opportunity to attend the International Society for Horticultural Science’s symposium on Vaccinium culture. The meeting was attended by researchers from all over the world including Dave Wildung from the North Central Experiment Station, Grand Rapids Minnesota. The half high blueberries, ‘Northblue’, ‘Northsky’ and ‘Northcountry’ were developed at the U of MN Fruit Breeding farm near Minneapolis, but they have become commercially important mostly in the northern part of the state. These cultivars are now under extensive tests in many parts of Alaska.
Dave Wildung is responsible for conducting all cultural experiments with these half highs, and he reported on some of his research at the symposium. One study looked at the effect of snow depth on winter survival and productivity of these half highs. He found that at least 30 cm (11.7 inches) of snow was necessary to ensure good fruit productivity in ‘Northblue’ (see table below). Depths of less than 15 cm (5.8 inches) can result in total crop loss. Winter-damaged plants often showed the same total yield as undamaged plants because what was lost in berry number was compensated in berry size. In other words, damaged plants produced fewer fruit, but each individual fruit was larger.
(grams per berry)
Dave also looked at the effects of different row covers on winter survival of ‘Northblue’. Plants were covered with one of 7 different kinds of row covers: 0.3 cm mesh polyethylene netting (like bird netting, but used to trap snow); 1.5 mil clear polyethylene; mounded snow; Reemay spun polyester cover; mounded straw; burlap; and natural snow cover. This experiment was conducted over two winters where the snow depth was 45 cm (17.6 inches) one year and 24 cm (9.4 inches) the next Air temperature beneath the coverings was measured at a height of 9 cm (3.5 inches) above the soil. The minimum winter temperatures are listed below.
1.5 mil poly
The yield in grams per plant for each row covering are listed below.
This study reiterated the necessity of snow cover for good fruit production. In adequate snow years, the row covers did not really help. In fact, mounding snow slightly decreased yields, probably because mounded, compact snow doesn’t have as good insulating capacity as natural snow. In low snow years, plants definitely benefited from the poly net row cover that helped trap additional snow around the plant.
In Fairbanks, the only part of the ‘Northblue’ plant that survives and produces fruit is that which is snow covered. Plants usually remain below 30 cm (12 inches) in height and fruit is borne very close to the ground. These plants may benefit from some type of snow-trapping device so that plant size and fruiting potential is increased.
— P. Holloway
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