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


91 comments to Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Emily A,
    Yes, this is actually the perfect time to plant! All of them should do fine as long as they are cared for appropriately. Good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    When the evening temperatures have dropped into the mid-twenties for several days in a row, the plants will enter dormancy. You can put them inside then, unless the area where they will be is heated. If the area is heated, you can bring them anytime. But, it is better for the plants to remain dormant over the winter. Good luck!

  • Emily A

    If giving out new strawberry plants (runners) in zone 5 mid September, what are the odds of them surviving if planted before October? Recommending generous mulch to recipients- would that be enough?

  • Marilyn

    When should I bring my strawberries inside to over winter them. I live in Zone 5b according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. Is there a particular temperature that would indicate that I need to take them? Thanks for the help.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Usually, strawberry plants won’t naturally drop fruit like fruit trees do. However, if the plants undergo a significantly stressful event they can. Green strawberries will usually survive temperatures down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, but if the temperatures drop below that, strawberry fruit drop can occur. If your cold snap resulted in a few nights of mid-twenties temperatures, that was likely stressful enough to cause the issue. If the forecast calls for temperatures like that in the future, rolling out a row cover over them for the night is usually sufficient to protect them and get them through the trial. Good luck!

  • Emily

    This is my second year with my strawberry patch and I have a problem that I can’t find a solution to anywhere! I have about 30 very large healthy plants, I snipped off the blossoms last year to let them get established and this spring they were just loaded with gorgeous fruit! I was so excited! But two days ago I went to weed and saw that most of the green berries had been dropped. It was cold for a fee nights last week (mid 20s) but they are in a protected area and I had thought that formed berries would be okay? Could a cold snap do this?
    Thank you!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    John Schneider,
    At only 39 degrees, it is not likely that they suffered any cold damage. More than likely, they were either damaged by the hail, or the varying amounts of water damaged them. See here for more on wilting strawberries. Good luck!

  • John Schneider

    I planted about 100 plants in a raised bed. 20×30′ My plants went through some crazy hot then cold 39degree lows. Then a layer of hail. Know my plants are turning brown and wilting. What is wrong did they get cold damaged and what do I do now?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Lawrence Richmond,
    Yes, if the blooms turn black, they are damaged. Wilting and shriveling are also indicators. Good luck!

  • Lawrence Richmond

    How can you tell if the blooms are damaged. Will they be black in the center. They are not open. We had a very hard frost last night it was 25.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Phyllis Piontkowski,
    The blooms may be damaged, but the plants should do fine as long as the temperature stays around 30 degrees. If it drops to the mid-twenties, they could suffer cold damage. If it is going to be between there somewhere, I’d recommend covering them just to be safe. Good luck!

  • Phyllis Piontkowski

    If strawberries are blooming now and the forecast is for 3″ to 7″ of snow this evening, will my strawberries be hurt?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Yes, they should make it. Strawberry plants can handle a little bit of snow as long as the temperatures don’t drop too far into the 20s. If they haven’t started putting up at least a few green new leaves by this point, they may have died. I’d give them another week or so in Zone 3 and then replant if they still haven’t started growing. Good luck!

  • Michelle

    Hi Mr. Strawberry. I live in Zone 7a Utah. I just barely got some bare root strawberries in the ground 3 days ago and last night we got a surprise snowfall. Although it looks to be melted by end of day they were covered by the snow throughout the night. I really have two questions. One, do you think they’ll make it? And two, how soon will I know if they died. They have no really leaves yet, just green crowns. Id like to plant new ones soon if i have to. Thanks for you time!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    If you mean that there is no greenhouse (I’m not sure what a shed of sun is), you can probably improvise with some PVC pipe as a frame and some clear plastic. Just make sure the snow doesn’t crush it. Depending on your location, however, you may not even need that. I’d give it a shot and see how it goes! Good luck!

  • cris

    hi, im planning to plant stawberries in switzerland but on my house there is no shed of sun.. it is possible to plant or no? please give me some advice. Thank u so much

  • Mr. Strawberry

    In New Jersey it will probably be better to move them into the shed; and, yes, you will still need to water them enough to keep the soil from completely drying out. Good luck!

  • Lauren

    I made a stacking terra cotta pot arrangement for my strawberry plants in New Jersey. It is quite heavy and I am trying to determine what to do for the upcoming colder months/winter. If I leave them and allow them to go into dormancy state, can I cover the pot tower with thick black garbage bag for the winter and leave them outside? Or should I move the whole thing into shed for winter? Will I still need to water them during dormant stage?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Strawberry Rookie,
    Yes, it is better to let the plants get bigger and then then harden them off slowly towards the tail end of summer or early fall. Then, planting them outside in their permanent home in late September will likely produce the best overall results. Good luck!

  • Strawberry Rookie

    Hi! I’m new to growing strawberries & I have some babies that are just germinating from seed. I know they are very delicate. My question is with the hot & windy days we are having recently here in Southeast Wisconsin, is it best to keep the seedlings indoors under a grow light? I’m keeping them watered well & my home’s temperature is set at 74. The temps outside are upper 80’s. What is your advice? Thanks in advance.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    I’m assuming that weed block is a fabric of some type to keep the weeds from growing through. If so, then there is no problem with that at all. I would still put down a layer of clean mulch on top of the weed block. And, if you want to let any runners root, you’ll need to position them where you want them and then snip a small hole in the fabric so that the roots can grow into the soil. But, that should work fine. Good luck!

  • Anthony

    Last year I planted strawberries in a tiered garden that I bought online. I used good garden soil, but they were overtaken by weeds. This year I would like to cover the soil first with weed block and then plan the strawberries. Do you see any issues with doing so?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    If you have just a few, it is easiest to place pots or buckets over them. If you have a lot, try a row cover like Reemay. If the temperature is not going to get down into the mid-twenties, you probably don’t have to do anything. You may lose your blooms, but the plants will likely keep trucking right along. Good luck!

  • Ashley

    We are expecting a late winter storm this weekend, with up to 6 inches of snow in the forcast. My plants are already out of their dormant stage. What is the best way to protect them from the snow?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    I’m not laughing! When I first started growing strawberries many, many years ago, I did the same thing as you. And, an ice storm came through and deposited about an inch of ice on everything. That made a huge mess of broken trees, downed power lines, and general mayhem on the roads if anyone wanted to try and drive on that, but guess what!? Every one of my strawberry plants survived! That was part of what helped deepen my amazement at these little plants. True, extremely cold weather can damage your plants, but you can use plastic or some other cover to protect the crowns at least a little bit if you don’t have straw available. Just be sure to remove it again as soon as the cold snap is over. They may even survive without any covering! But, I’d cover them with something if it is available. Good luck!

  • Carrie

    Thank you for your wealth of information. May I ask if there is any chance for my strawberry plants for next year if I have not protected them with straw or any other covering? It will get bitter cold this weekend and straw is unavailable locally. We live in zone 5b. You can stop laughing now 🙂

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Jamie Dagley,
    Yes, plastic pots should be sufficient to protect the plants, but the blooms may die back. Good luck!

  • Jamie Dagley

    Hello, I am in South Carolina. We are getting ready to have a a few freezing nights. If I place plastic pots over the plants, will that help protect them? We also just had a ton of rain so the ground is wet. During the daytime the temperature will be in the low 50s for most of the days. I do have one blossom already. Thank you.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    clifford azema,
    Yes, you should get a good harvest next spring. Keep pinching off flowers until they enter dormancy! Good luck!

  • clifford azema

    Hi,i live in Houston texas and just reacently planted 30 festival strawberries and 25 ALBION STRAWBERRY PLANTS.They are growing great and its early November,within the second week the festive are flowering i pinched all the flowers off and read to do so,will i get flowering again in upcoming spring and strawberries the first go around,i was told in my climate i could let them fruit the first year if i did fall planting.Thanks

  • Mr. Strawberry

    It would actually be better to allow the plants to have their vegetation killed off, rake them clean after the leaves have withered, and then cover. A couple of nights of low 20s is just what they need to have dormancy induced, but it should not do damage to the plants as the soil will still be warm enough to insulate them. If the forecast calls for extended cold, go ahead and mulch. But, with just a day or two of cold, they should do fine. Good luck!

  • Pete

    I have 2-25′ rows of strawberry plants that I just planted this past spring. I live in MA. There is a freeze forecasted for the next 2 nights 20 degrees for 7 plus hours. The rest of the week has no freezing temperatures. Should I cover them with straw and if so can I leave them covered for the rest of the winter? Thank you in advance for your time and expertise.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Leave them! If you are moving into spring/summer, they should ripen to red and can be picked then! Good luck!

  • Jean

    My strawberry plants have green berries on them formed in later winter. Do I leave them on now we are in spring or cut them off?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Yes, if you care for them appropriately, the plants can survive the winter just fine. See here for details. Good luck!

  • Stephy

    hi i am jusy worried about my strawberries summer is ending soon here in Norway (actually summer wasn’t great this year quite cold like 10-15 C is the warmest) so my question is does it have a chance of surviving the winter?

    Coz now it is bearing strawberries but i noticed there are premature ones the size of a green pea that hasn’t grown full, i don’t know if it is delayed or never will grow like the 8 pcs full grown i have harvested. I am really worried.

    Thanks in advance if you will reply ^_^

  • Mr. Strawberry

    No, that short of a time period shouldn’t do any significant damage. Good luck!

  • Sindi

    Question. If the strawberries are packaged in a reffer on temperature 35 but if it slightly goes on 25° for less than ten minutes would it damege the strawberries. It’s on a reffer the one you transport from store to store.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    tom alice,
    No, but you will need to wrap or otherwise provide extra winter insulation if you wish your plants to be perennial. Good luck!

  • tom alice

    live in western N.Y. I want to plant strawberries in gutters.
    Is it to cold to do so?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    If the temperature is going to be down into the twenties, it would be a good idea to protect them. A mild frost shouldn’t hurt the plants (could damage the blossoms, though). Good luck!

  • Marilyn

    In southwestern Pa we are forecasted to have a frost. I have many green strawberries and would like to know if they should be protected tonight.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    You can use clean straw to cover them, or you can use a row cover like Remay. Good luck!

  • Charity

    We r supposed to have temps in 20’s tomorrow night, I have 50 newly planted strawberry plants, some with bids, some already are producing strawberries and ripening. How do I cover to protect my plants? They are in mounded rows. ????

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Great! You’ll be harvesting soon, hopefully!

  • Milo

    After reading all this, I feel confident that I planted my strawberry s in the right area in my yard. Ithey are behind my shed on the south side , setting about 5 inches deep in a 5×6 form. Temps are around the mid 30’s lately. But they are looking healthy as ever..

  • Mr. Strawberry

    If you strawberry plants aren’t in a pot and are in soil in the ground, it is best to leave them alone unless you need to move them. If you need to move them, it can be done, but it stresses the plants. If you do it often, it will likely end up killing your plants. Good luck!

  • angel

    hi will i kill my starwberries if i move them around all the time as they aint in pot they are in the soil it selfs..?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Donnie mac,
    Yes, the strawberries should do well in pots as long as they have good soil and adequate water. They will also do fine once temperatures warm up to be outside on the porch! Good luck!

  • Donnie mac

    This is my first time trying to grow strawberries. I bought a six pack from my local nursery. I don’t have room in my garden. Will they be okay in a big pot? Also I have them indoors now because tempatures are in the low 20s at night. When it gets above freezing temps consistently will they be ok transferring them out on my front porch?

  • 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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    You’re welcome!

  • Anthony

    Thank you Mr strawberry.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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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