Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury

strawberry plants and cold injuryOne of the benefits of growing strawberry plants is that they don’t die off every year.  With appropriate care, they can live for many years, and they can survive very cold winter temperatures.  These traits make strawberry plants hardy perennials.

As the temperatures drop in the fall or winter, strawberry plants undergo a transformation.  They slow their cellular processes, move into a state of plant “hibernation,” and are dormant until warmer temperatures return in the late winter or early spring of the next year.

When temperatures increase, strawberry plants revive and begin increasing their plant metabolism.  But, a brief period of warmer temperatures can happen before the warmer weather is consistent.  And, unfortunately, strawberry plants are susceptible to being damaged by cold temperatures if they are not prepared for them.  When temperatures rise and revive dormant strawberry plants and then precipitously fall again, strawberry plants can suffer cold injury or “frost damage.”  This post will guide you through the process of determining the degree and significance of cold damage on strawberry plants in your garden.

Strawberry plants and cold injury are common partners.  Any time a plant survives the winter months, the late winter fluctuations in temperature put such plants at risk of freeze damage.  And, while some damage is common, it is important to determine the extent of such injury.  A small amount of temperature-induced damage will not kill your strawberry plants or significantly decrease their strawberry production if the plants are otherwise healthy.  So, determining the extent of any cold injury is critical.  After a cold snap, it can be critical to check a sample of planted strawberry plants to determine an appropriate course of action.  If extensive damage is found, replanting your strawberry beds may be necessary (you can purchase some here, if needed: strawberry plants).

Checking Strawberry Plants for Cold Damage

If your region experiences a warm period followed by a significant drop in temperature, checking your strawberry plants may be in order.  After the cold snap, wait a few days.  Then, gather some simple tools.

Tools needed:

1.  a small hand trowel

2.  a piece of a 2×4 (or other hard surface)

3.  a sharp and sturdy knife (a box cutter works well)

After you’ve gathered your tools, go to your strawberry bed.  Use the trowel to dig a circle around the strawberry plants you are going to examine.  You only need to inspect a few strawberry plants.  After the circle is dug, gently lift the plants out, shake as much dirt and debris off of the roots as possible, and then cut or pull off all the leaves.  All that should be left is the crown and some roots.  Put the crown on your wooden block or other cutting surface.  Then, carefully make a vertical slice from the leaf end down to the root end of the crown.  This should cut the crown cleanly in half.  The crowns will often be firm, so be careful when cutting as a slip with sharp cutting tools can cause personal injury.

Immediately upon completing the cut, inspect the strawberry plant.  As soon as the inside of the strawberry crown is exposed to oxygen in the air, it will begin to oxidize and turn brown, so swift inspection is required.  Waiting too long to inspect will result in difficulty accurately assessing the extent of strawberry damage.

When inspecting strawberry plants, look for brown discoloration within the whitish, ivory-colored inner crown tissue.  If light brown discoloration spots are visible, the strawberry plant has suffered mild cold damage.  Mild cold damage on strawberry plants is usually insignificant.  The strawberry plants will adapt, heal, and continue their normal and productive lives.

Mild Strawberry Cold Injury

Mild Strawberry Cold Injury

However, if brown streaks or significant browning are noted, the strawberry plants have suffered more extensive damage, and the strawberry plants may have to be replaced.  Prior to digging up your entire bed and replanting, it is a good idea to wait a few weeks and recheck a sample of the plants.  Upon recheck, if new white areas are developing within the crown, the strawberry plants will often recover.  If there is no new white crown tissue, the plant is likely a goner.  At that point, replanting the strawberries will be required.

Serious Strawberry Cold Injury

Serious Strawberry Cold Injury

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41 comments to Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Ann Jacquot,
    Possibly. I would recommend starting at the Growing Strawberries reference page and reading that material to ensure you have given your plants what they need. Then, you might want to visit this page to see if you have a different problem causing your misshapen berries. Good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Laura,
    It could be a number of things. If your plants are three years old, they will begin losing their vigor soon, and should be replaced after this year (using runner plants from the mother plants you have is acceptable). Also, strawberries can deplete the nutrients from the soil over time which results in smaller berries. Crowded beds also result in smaller berries, so make sure your plants haven’t become too dense. If your plants in the elevated area are doing fine, and it is just your plants on the lower level that are struggling, there may be a drainage problem with your strawberries. In order to thrive, they need well-drained soil. Hopefully, you’ll get them producing well for you soon! The growing strawberries reference page should help further. Good luck!

  • Ann Jacquot

    My Quinault strawberries are small and misshapen. I planted them last spring and had the same issue all summer. Is there anything I can do to make them bigger? I live in North Idaho. The plants appear healthy, green and lush. Thanks.

  • Laura

    Hi, This is my third year growing strawberries in the ground with a smaller raised area in the middle of the patch. I mulched heavily and have gotten a very nice yield. On the raised portion my strawberries have been large and wonderful. In many areas on the ground portion, the strawberries are very tiny, even pea sized. Do I need to replace these strawberries? How can I help the ground level strawberries excel?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Christine,
    If you waited until the soil dried out to water, some of them probably died. The soil must remain at least slightly moist throughout the winter to keep them alive. If you still have one, be sure to save the runners, and you should be able to repopulate your railing planters in no time. Good luck!

  • Christine

    I have strawberries in railing planters. Can I leave them out through the winter? Do I water them at all through the winter?

    Last year I brought them into the garage and watered them when they dried out. I brought them out last week and only 1 out of 6 planters started to grow green leaves. I don’t understand why all the other ones died?

  • Straw Berry

    Newbie Strawberry Gardener,
    If they are easily moved, it is best to bring them in if the temperature drops into the twenties. I am assuming that they are not dormant, so keeping them out of temperatures in the twenties will be best for them. Temperatures in the thirties shouldn’t be a problem at all. Good luck!

  • Newbie Strawberry Gardener

    My husband and I have talked about planting strawberries on general terms but nothing serious. He surprised me with 9 strawberry shoots for Valentines Day. I have planted them all in starter pots since our yard is flooded and we werent prepared for them. Today was the first day I could set them outside without worry but I am unsure at what temperature I should bring them inside or if it is safe to leave them outside. We have lows in the 30s this week but next week is expected to be in the 20s and teens. Help!

  • Straw Berry

    Jerry,
    Those temperatures will not hurt strawberry plants. In fact, they don’t even enter dormancy until the weather gets cooler than that, so you should be just fine leaving them in the shade house. Good luck!

  • Jerry

    I live in South Georgia and we are forecasted to have 6 hours of temperatures from 30 degrees to 32 degrees. I have a cart of strawberry plants and can move them into our school greenhouse. Is this necessary or will they be fine left out in the shade house? They are planted in flats with about 3 inches of potting soil and I have two hanging baskets as well.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Jenny,
    You might have a pest or pathogen problem, or the stress of transferring them outside could have damaged the plants. If the plants are dead, yes, you should remove them. For help with pests and problems, peruse the Library. Good luck!

  • Jenny (Australia)

    Hey, I planted out 8 plants about 10 days ago into a soft plastic planter. Some of the plants have leaves that are turning brown, starting at the edges and then the whole leaf has turned brown. We have had some fairly crazy weather, warm, cold, very windy and lots of rain. I do not think that they have dried out. Any other suggestions as to what might be the cause and would you suggest cutting my loses and pulling these few out?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Pankaj Pandit,
    There is no way to determine what variety you have just from that information. Sorry!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Pankaj Pandit,
    Strawberries are temperate plants. Very hot temperatures can cause them to wilt and die. Also, the majority of a strawberry plant’s roots are in the top 3 inches of the soil. That is also the part of the soil that will rapidly dry out in scorching sun. If you have very hot days, you will need to water them more often or use a drip tape to irrigate and cool their roots. Good luck!

  • Pankaj Pandit

    Also, my strawberry plants fruit from October – April, so what variety is that??, though they fruit less between December-January.

  • Pankaj Pandit

    Sir, I live In India and tried growing strawberries last year for the first time and was successful to some extent but I had few questions in my mind and hope you can help me with that. This is the month of September and temperature in our area rises to 35′C. If that temperature fine for growing them and secondly, yesterday it was cloudy and cool in the morning but eventually during the day, the sun was shining and hot so when I reached home in the evening, I saw that two out of dozen strawberry plants were dying and wilting. So, I applied water to see if that makes difference and after 2 hours I found them health and today in the morning they were looking very fresh, so I am wondering what could have caused the possible wilting and drying. Please reply.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Elaine,
    If it is mild cold damage, you may have to wait until next year to see if they bloom again once the crowns have had time to recover. June-bearing varieties typically won’t bloom again after their first major crop is produced. Good luck!

  • Elaine

    If your strawberries do have mild cold damage is there anything I can do to make it bloom again or more?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Peter,
    A better solution would be bird netting. Good luck!

  • Peter

    Can I leave a frost blanket on my strawberries to keep the birds from eating them or will the berries not ripen or die from the blanket?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Anthony,
    You’re welcome!

  • Anthony

    Thank you Mr strawberry.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Anthony,
    Yes, you can cut them off. Just snip the stem right behind the flower.

  • Anthony

    can I cut the flowers off that have black centres (frost damage) and if so were do I do this?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    brenda,
    You can to be save, but already-formed strawberries typically do ok with lower-30s temperatures. Good luck either way!

  • brenda

    we have 200 strawberry plants they are in full bloom, and many green strawberries
    should we cover them tonight. it is suppose to be in the lower 30s here in ky.
    thank b shaw

  • amybeth

    Thank you for all the information! Really appreciated!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    amybeth,
    If they are still dormant, that is actually good. They still may have problem, but it is a little less likely if they weren’t actively producing vegetative growth yet. There also have been some stories coming from the eastern coast that low temperatures haven’t been doing the damage they normally do. So, keep an eye on them, and, hopefully, they’ll perk right up and grow! Good luck!

  • amybeth

    The problem is wilting is hard to detect add they really have a lack of foliage. They were 7″+ of root and maybe 1″+/- of crown growth. No green leaves, just fuzzy stems growing on a few. Supposed to be dormant. Does this make a difference re: frost tolerance?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    amybeth,
    A 25 degree frost with just-planted plants could indeed do mortal damage. Keep an eye on them. If they start to wilt, you might want to replace them. Good luck!

  • amybeth

    Just planted root stock plants yesterday and last night we had a 25 degree frost….. Will they survive do you think?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Lawrence,
    Your plants will do just fine, but a hard frost will likely damage the blossoms. The safest thing to do would be to cover the plants, if possible. Good luck!

  • Lawrence

    I have blossoms and it is supposed to get down to 37 tonight with possible frost. Should I cover my 1,200 plants?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Honey hill,
    Yes, it is possible for the blossoms to be damaged by a heavy frost, but the plants should survive.

  • Honey hill

    Will frost at 32* hurt blossoms on strawberrys?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Ken,
    Strawberries most certainly can survive 20 degrees F. In fact, it takes temperatures in the mid-twenties for several nights just to get the plants to fully enter their dormant state. You do need to protect your plants against cold injury at low temperatures, but I’d recommend using straw for protection. Good luck!

  • Ken

    Can strawberry plants survive 20 degrees F? If not, can I over my plants with a ‘Dalen Gard’n Blanket’(made out of a white light weight fabric). Also if covering them with this blanket is OK, should I leave this blanket covering my plants on until spring? Thanks again – Ken

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Lee,
    Yes, snip off damaged blossoms and any other dead plant matter. Good luck!

  • Lee Linton

    My strawberry blossoms have been damaged by a late frost. Should I snip off the blossoms that have turned brown to make way for new, healthy blossoms?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Sheila,
    The likely culprit is either a fungal infection (see the Strawberry Plant page for more) or just dying leaflets. Sometimes excessive heat or drought will do that to leaves.

  • Sheila Johnson

    My strawberry plant leaves have dry crispy brown edges. What causes this, and how do I remedy the situation?
    Thank you.

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