Unusually warm winter jumpstarted local berry crops — but cooler temps now pose a risk
Some of Hampton Roads’ favorite crops started to grow early this year, including strawberries and blueberries.
An unusually warm February accelerated the growth. The region saw average temperatures last month of up to 8 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service in Wakefield.
But with temperatures dipping again, those budding berries are now at risk.
“That’s slowed the growth down and probably left a lot of the plants and the landscape confused,” said Jayesh Samtani, a small fruit specialist and assistant professor with the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center. “They're kind of hanging in there.”
The weather service usually starts sending out freeze warnings next Month, alerting farmers when temperatures warrant covering their crops to protect them from the cold.
But because of the wacky weather, officials have already begun the freeze warning system.
Growers usually need to know whether to put covers up overnight by early afternoon, Samtani said. Waiting until nighttime would let heat accumulated during the daytime to escape.
Samtani said some local growers were already behind with planting their crops because of challenges with the supply chain.
“That resulted in a slower start in the fall season for the strawberries,” he said. “And then the plants already started waking up.”
The size of the plants is also “not as superior” this year, with seemingly smaller buds.
Strawberry plants in Hampton Roads usually start producing fruit in mid-April and reach peak bloom in May, sometimes stretching into June, Samtani said.
The early growth this year may mean an early strawberry picking season on some farms.
But Samtani said it’s important to remember all the hard work and labor that goes into getting to that point.
“Particularly this time of the year, the berry growers are pretty much on guard watching their plants.”