Updates on freeze injury in grapevines

By Michela Centinari

It seems like yesterday we were looking at the weather forecast and worrying about cold winter temperature events and the potential for grapevine injury. Now that it is finally starting to get warmer here in Pennsylvania, we may be faced with another threat: spring frost. A grape grower is never bored!

It was another cold winter in Pennsylvania, particularly harsh in the Lake Erie region (Figure 1). At the Penn State Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC) temperatures bottomed out at about -21 °F (-30 °C) on February 16, 2015. Unfortunately several cold events (-13, -14 and -15°F) were recorded over the following ten days. On a ‘positive’ note, the week before these extreme cold events, temperatures were lower than normal, with daytime temperature highs well below freezing, except for one day (34°F). These temperatures may have provided a positive, reinforcing maintenance of the vines’ mid-winter cold hardiness [1]. Bryan Hed and the LERGREC’s crew have been checking the extent of bud and trunk damage on Concord and other hybrid varieties.

Figure 1. Daily maximum and minimum temperatures recorded at the LERGREC during the 2014-2015 dormant season.

Figure 1. Daily maximum and minimum temperatures recorded at the LERGREC during the 2014-2015 dormant season.

Information available on cold winter injury on grapevine

At the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention I reviewed the factors that can affect grapevine cold hardiness, explained how to assess bud, cane and trunk cold damage, as well as how to manage cold-injured vines. For information on grapevine cold injury you can refer to the Grapevine cold injury, end of the season considerations blog post and references within.

If you are looking for specific information on winter injury to vine phloem you can check this recent and comprehensive review: Viticulture and Enology Extension News, spring 2015, Washington State University written by Michelle Moyer (Assistant Professor and Viticulture Extension Specialist at Washington State University).

Percentage of winter injury does not equal percentage of crop loss

In March, I attended The Northern Grapes Project Symposium in Syracuse, NY. Tim Martinson (Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University) and Imed Dami (Associate Professor and Viticulture Extension Specialist at Ohio State University) highlighted that the percentage of bud cold damage does not always equal percentage of crop loss. The answer often lies in the pruning adjustment strategies adopted by growers. Dami reported that, despite 40% of bud winter damage, Marquette produced about 5 tons/acre in Ohio last year. Those vines were pruned to 5 bud-spurs (‘hedge pruning’) to compensate for winter injury [2]. .

Tim Martinson reported that last year many growers in the Finger Lakes region (NY) left more buds to compensate for winter injury experienced during the 2013-2014 winter. The growers left up to five-fold more buds than they would have done in a normal year. Many cane-pruned VSP vineyards were spurred to 5-6 bud spurs. It was a pleasant surprise that in 2014 widely planted V. vinifera varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet franc, came through better than was expected based on bud mortality estimates. I know that many growers prefer cane pruning, and I understand the reasoning behind that, but please take into consideration that cane pruning is not recommended following winter injury [3].

How to train suckers of cold injured vines?

Imed Dami recommends that growers “actively” train vines back to their original training system in the same season in order to resume production quicker. Therefore, instead of training suckers vertically (they can become extremely vigorous!) they should be trained horizontally along the fruiting wire. With extremely vigorous vines, four shoots should be selected and then two can be laid horizontally on the fruiting wire. With less vigor, two shoots can be selected and laid horizontally, one to each side. Then, shoots should be tipped to stimulate lateral shoot growth. Lateral shoots growing vertically and upward will become the future spurs next season [4]. Latent buds on the lateral shoots will develop like buds from primary shoots. As long as they are exposed to sunlight and clean from disease and insects, they should have the same cold hardiness as any other buds.

Here is a valuable video regarding pruning with regards to cold injured vines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1Yhv8Rw38o

A few words on spring frost

As we get close to bud-break, the threat of spring frost is approaching. In the spring of 2014, no frost damage was recoded in grapevines in Pennsylvania and hopefully we will have another frost-free spring. If you would like to get information about frost protection strategies you can check the following websites and newsletters. Unfortunately, there is no new exciting or infallible frost protection method. Site selection remains the best way to protect vines from frost injury.

To the often asked question: If my vine gets frosted, should I remove the injured shoots?

The answer is: “There’s not much of a point,” according to Tony Wolf, Professor and Viticulture Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech University. A detailed explanation on how to handle damaged shoots and potential consequences on yield production can be found at Viticulture Notes, Vol.25, May-June 2010

Testing the cryo-protectant properties of KDL

KDL (potassium dextrose lactose; Agro-K corporation, Minneapolis, MN, USA) is a potassium based fertilizer. According to the manufacturer’s literature, spraying KDL shortly before a frost event (24-48 hours) would increase the potassium and sugar levels within the plant and reduce the frost injury on young vine tissue. Although attractive to growers, there is not scientific literature that supports the effectiveness of this product in preventing/reducing frost damage. Numerous grower testimonials are available, but growers usually do not leave an ‘untreated’ control area where the material is not applied, which is critical in order to evaluate the efficacy of KDL as cryo-protectant.

A large scale study coordinated by Tim Martinson (Cornell University) and in collaboration with the Agro-K company (KDL manufacturer) has been set up this spring to evaluate the effect of KDL at several vineyard sites located in NY and PA. Penn State is a collaborating university that is helping to work with six commercial growers that agreed to participate in the study in addition to the Penn State LERGREC in North East, PA.

Figure 2. Setting up the KDL trial with Tim Martinson and growers in the Endless Mountain region, PA.

Figure 2. Setting up the KDL trial with Tim Martinson and growers in the Endless Mountain region, PA.

Although, I’m hopeful there will not be a spring frost that growers have to deal with, if we do end up with a spring frost during the 2015 growing season, this study will hopefully provide some useful recommendations for grape growers.

References cited

  1. Wolf T.K., 2015. Viticulture Notes. Vol. 30 supplement, 17 February 2015
  2. Dami, I.E. , Ennahli S., Zhang Y. (2012). Assessment of winter injury in grape cultivars and pruning strategies following a freezing stress event. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 63: 106-111.
  3. Dami, I.E. 2009. Ohio Grape-Wine Electronic Newsletter Vol.3: 2-5, 6 Feb 2009.
  4. Dami I.E., 2014.Ohio Grape-Wine Electronic Newsletter, Vol.25, 3 July 2014.


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