Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter

mulching strawberry plants with straw for winterMulching strawberry plants is a necessary step in the care of perennial strawberry care.  For gardeners using the matted row system to produce strawberries, part of the process of growing strawberries involves strawberry renovation and preparation for overwintering strawberry plants.  In milder temperate climates, minimal mulching is required as strawberries can withstand nominal freezing temperatures without much difficulty.  However, if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the crowns will often sustain damage and fail to bloom the following spring.

One of the simplest and most common methods of protecting the strawberry crowns is to use a thick layer of straw mulch to cover and protect the vulnerable crowns during the cold of winter.  It is relative easy to apply and serves several beneficial functions for your plants.

Benefits of Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter

As already mentioned, the primary benefit obtained by straw mulching your strawberry bed is the prevention of cold injury.  However, simple temperature control is not the only benefit of using a straw mulch (or other mulch).  Mulching appropriately also prevents frost heaving of the crowns.  Additionally, the moisture content of the dormant plants is better maintained by preventing the winter winds from desiccating.  And, perhaps most importantly, mulching helps reduce the risk of your plants developing black root rot.  Black root rot is more common in plants that have developed susceptibility to it because of cold injury.

How to Mulch Strawberry Plants with Straw

In order to ensure that your plants are adequately protected, follow these steps:

1. Obtain clean straw. Oat, rye, or wheat straw are the best mulching straw types because it isn’t heavy, is loose, and won’t smother the plants.  Leaves will form a dense, smothering layer, and hay usually contains a host of weed and grass seeds that will germinate in warmer weather and will compete with or choke out your strawberries.  Using straw also reduces the chance of inoculating your bed with insect pests or other pathogens.  One bale of straw will typically cover about 30 feet of 4-foot-wide matted row.

2. Choose the appropriate time to apply the straw mulch.  The straw should not be applied until the strawberry plants have gone dormant for the winter.  Otherwise, the plants might be smothered.  Strawberry plants typically go dormant when the temperatures have dropped into the mid-20° F range for 3-4 consecutive days.  Plants can usually be identified as dormant by the older leaves, which will turn brown first.  The younger leaves will turn from a bright green to a dull green or gray color.  It is best not to wait until the ground is completely frozen.

3. Apply the straw mulch to the strawberry plants.  Once the plants are dormant, apply the mulch!  Break up the bale and then break the flakes completely.  Apply loose straw to the row of strawberry plants 3 to 6 inches deep.  It is also good to cover any exposed soil between rows or in the planting.

4. Remove the straw before springtime.  It is important to remove the straw mulch from the plants prior to them beginning to grow.  Gently rake most of the straw off the plants and into the rows as soon as the top 2-4 inches of soil have warmed to 4o degrees.  Leave a thin layer of straw over the plants.  The plants will grow up through this thin covering, and it will also serve to keep the strawberries clean and minimize contact with the dirt beneath.

Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter: Conclusion

If cared for appropriately, strawberry plants will produce well year after year.  In fact, with effective transplanting, your strawberries can keep replenishing themselves for a lifetime!  So, mulch appropriately.  Straw is an excellent choice for mulching medium, although some people like to use newspaper.

So, plant to give a little tender loving care to you strawberry bed, and your strawberry plants will reward you with numerous harvests to come!  Good luck!


38 comments to Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Mindy Skinner,
    Your plants have probably gone dormant for the year where you live. I would recommend going out and gently raking any dead, wilted vegetative material out of the strawberry bed (that decreased the risk of harboring fungi or other pathogens). Then, I would still recommend mulching. Mice eating strawberries is not a common problem, but cold injury is. Mulching with clean straw is a good way to make sure all the great work you did this year is followed by a hearty harvest this coming year! Good luck!

  • Mindy Skinner

    I live in Wisconsin and planted my first strawberries is year. I cut off all runners and all blossoms all year. The plants look very healthy. It is now December 22nd and I just woke up this morning and realized I didn’t cut back the plants and mulch them. I can’t believe I forgot! Should I cut them back now and mulch, like today? Or should I just go out and mulch them without cutting them back? Also, I saw another post that said the mice had eaten all the plants under the mulch. For some reason the mice are very bad this year and I’m afraid of that happening. The link in that post didn’t work so I don’t know how to prevent the mice attack.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Linda Sisolak,
    It is best for the adventitious node to contact soil instead of mulch. That allows the runner plant to develop a stable and secure root system to support the healthy functioning of the plant. If the runners rooted in the mulch, the roots might have gotten deep enough, but the plants will likely do more poorly than their neighbors. The video on this page might help you root them more effectively next time. Good luck!

  • Linda Sisolak

    I had planted about 25 June bearers this past spring and mulched them with wood chip mulch. They produced many blossoms which I pinched off for a better yield next June. I am concerned about how the runners grew on top of the mulch. Should I have done something about it while it was happening? I live in central Indiana. Thank you? Linda

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Yes, you can do that to everbearing plants, but you’ll likely miss the second main harvest of berries if you do it. Typically the everbearing varieties aren’t renovated in the same way as the more common and popular June-bearers are. Good luck!

  • Lynn

    You had previously said that strawberry plants can be mowed over to prevent pathogens from entering. Does this go for ever bearing plants also?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    You’ve possibly gotten a fungal infection. Leaf spot is the most likely culprit (search this site for “leaf spot”). If you have an excess of strawberry plants, you can pull them up and throw them away or transplant them. Good luck!

  • Glenda

    My strawberry plant’s leaves are getting black and brown spots on them. Is there something I should be doing or cut off the leaves ? My strawberry plants are coming up in all of my flower beds , what should I do?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Just make sure the containers are insulated to prevent freezing/cold damage, and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out all the way. Good luck!

  • Mitchell

    Are they any additional steps I need to take to preparing strawberry plants in containers for the winter?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Strawberries will continue to put out runners until virtually all the space in your berry patch is taken up. When they get like that, however, there isn’t enough garden “real estate” to support all the plants adequately. Additionally, the runners are unlikely to be able to root themselves well prior to colder temperatures arriving where you are. So, I would recommend snipping them off at this point. Good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Soctt Fulton,
    Strawberries actually can do quite well with slightly acidic soil. So, feel free to use the cheaper pine needles! Good luck!

  • Kate

    I live outside of Ottawa, Ontario. In July I was given about a dozen crowns of an everbearing variety, which I planted in a 4×4 raised bed. The plants are thriving, and sending off a million runners, which are threatening to take over the neighbouring beds as well. We are having sporadic frost now, but won’t have consistently low temps for another month or so. Should I be cutting off those runners, or just looping them back into the bed? It’s pretty crowded in there! I have my bail of straw ready, but am not sure if I should trim the plants down before covering. They are about a foot high right now…Thanks!

  • Scott Fulton

    I have read that pine needles can be substituted for straw as a winter mulch for strawberries? Is this true? Wouldn’t that lower the soil pH adversely? Straw costs money, but we’ve got tons of pine needles just laying around.


  • Mr. Strawberry

    Yes, you will cover the whole plant. You shouldn’t mulch until the plants enter dormancy. So, once the weather cools and the plants go dormant, remove any dead leaves and then cover the entire plant with mulch. Good luck!

  • barbara

    I have “Allstar” strawberry plants, that never did produce much fruit but this was their first year, however they have continued to grow and are lush and green with numerous runners. I grown them in a black tote and need to find out when it comes time to winterize them when I cover them with straw should it cover the whole plant because the leaves stand much higher then 4 inches?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    A hoop house will provide extra protection. If you leave them exposed, mulch them heavily, but with something other than leaves. Leaves will pack too tightly and are likely to harbor fungi that are pathogenic to strawberries. Good luck!

  • LJCoolJ

    I live in Kelowna BC and was planning on building a hoop house over my raised garden bed. Should I include the strawberry plants in that cover or leave them to the elements (I covered them last year with leaves). Thanks for any assistance!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Jack Breeden,
    Yes, you cover the entire plant with the mulch. Doing so provides insulation for the crown and prevents cold injury. Thanks for visiting, and good luck!

  • Jack Breeden

    After reading all the comments, I still do not fully understand the mulching process. In other words, I would like to know if you cover the entire plant with 3″ to 4″ of straw, or just the ground around the plants. Love your website. Thank you.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Shirley Wad,
    Yes, you actually can. The difficulty with Styrofoam, however, is getting to to stay put once you’ve put it where you want it. Good luck!

  • Shirley Wad

    Can you cover strawberry plants with Styrofoam over the winter months.

  • Straw Berry

    sky mont,
    If the commercial compost is sterile and doesn’t compact, you might be able to use it. However, you are correct in that you don’t want normal soil to cover the crowns, as that introduces great potential for pathogenic contamination of your plants. Also, if your mulching medium compacts, you could cause your crowns to rot if it also holds water. If you don’t have access to straw, you could try shredded newspaper. Good luck!

  • sky mont

    my garden center man said to cover/mulch my strawberries for winter protection with 3 to 4 inches of a commercial compost–but i always thought one shouldn’t cover the crown with any kind of earth based mulch at any time, am i wrong, or is he wrong please straighten this out, as winter is approaching quickly–by the way we don’t have access to any straw what so ever only hay with seeds to for us it’s either fleece or earth. please help ta

  • Mr. Strawberry

    From your comment on the Transplanting Strawberries post, I see you’ve found your answer! Good luck!

  • Vikki

    I live in Arizona, and a year ago in the spring planted 4 strawberry plants. I don’t know what variety, but they did great, and I was very surprised that without any overwintering on my part, they came back in the spring with a vengeance! Of course, we do have rather mild winters here! Now I have many strawberry plants, much to our delight, but my problem is that the runners are going crazy! I need to transplant them into safer and neater areas (they’re currently implementing a garden take-over plan!) but do I wait until they develop serious roots and try to transplant before winter sets in or wait until the spring?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Brenda Wilson,
    You should remove the dead plant vegetative matter to reduce the chance of fungus or other pathogens setting up shop. Mowing is one way to accomplish it. Raking or hand removal can also work. Good luck!

  • Brenda Wilson

    do I mow over the plants before putting on the straw?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Sandy bishop,
    You are probably doing just fine. Quinault is not a June-bearing variety, it is an everbearing one. But, there are some benefits to that. With everbearers, you can typically stop pinching the flowers off around the end of June. They will then go ahead and produce a fall harvest for you. The berries typically aren’t as big or as numerous as the June-bering varieties, but they are still tasty! For more, be sure to read the information on the Strawberry Varieties page. Good luck!

  • Sandy bishop

    I am a first time strawberry planter. i planted quinault berries and have been pinching all blossoms this first year to encourage growth for a first full harvest in June 2014.. Now after reading this site I am worried that I planted the wrong kind of berry for June bearing and…for Kentucky.nso muchbinfonout there that i thought I had done my research.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Melissa Mc,
    I’d recommend trying one or more of these. Good luck!

  • Melissa Mc

    I had planted strawberry plants last year and then I had covered them with straw for the winter, in the spring I uncovered them to find that mice had a hay day and ate nearly all of my plants. What can I do to keep this from happening again? Thanks….

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Barry Cunningham,
    You can substitute pine needles or comparable mulch for the straw, but you shouldn’t use wood chips or sawdust or leaves or anything that will pack tightly or retain water. Hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Barry Cunningham

    Can I substitude straw mulch with red ceder mulch on strawberry plants for winter

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Marie Ann Robinson,
    Yes, you need to mulch or otherwise protect your strawberry plants each winter. Also, see here: Mowing Strawberries & Strawberry Renovation. Good luck!

  • Marie Ann Robinson

    Is the above information the same with a bed of strawberries that I planted last spring? Also, I have read that some people recommend mowing (or cutting) the leaves off the plants in the fall. Is this ever a good idea?
    Marie Ann

  • Mr. Strawberry

    You are welcome! I’m glad the website helps folks. As mentioned above, 3 to 6 inches should suffice. You can purchase clean straw from most home and garden stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot or even the garden section at Wal-Mart. Good luck!

  • Shirley Berger

    My kindergarten class grew our first strawberry garden last May. We are in Grayslake, Illinois. The plants are doing great. I will thin and cut off runners.
    How much straw is needed to cover the plants? Where do I purchase clean straw?

    Thanks so much and I am so happy I found your website!

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