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!

 

20 comments to Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter

  • 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

    Vikki,
    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

    Shirley,
    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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