When Should Strawberry Plants Be Mulched?

when should strawberry plants be mulched for winterQ: When Should Strawberry Plants Be Mulched for Winter?

On November 20, 2015, Danny Abbuscome asked:

I have a few raised beds with strawberry plants planted in them.  I got them as potted plants and had a decent crop and got several gallons of strawberries from all my plants combined.  I planted them this spring, instead of last fall like you recommended (I hadn't found this site yet).  I followed all the instructions for renovation and mowed them and limited the runners so they didn't overgrow everything.  It may have been mentioned somewhere else, but when exactly do I mulch the plants for winter?  I seem to get different information on a quick google of mulching strawberries.  Exactly when should strawberry plants be mulched for the winter months?  I don't want to smother them or cause any harm if the plants aren't ready.  I still have some green living-looking leaves on my plants, although most of the big leaves have turned mostly brown and look dead.  Can you give me some advice as to how to go about mulching?  Any help would be much appreciated!

Answer to: When to Mulch Strawberries for Winter?

Danny Abbuscome,
It sounds like you are ahead of the game!  If you purchase potted plants, they are often nursery-grown and it is ok to plant them in the spring as they already have a pot full of established roots to drop right into a hole in the ground.  Planting in the fall is more important for bare-root or underdeveloped plants.  If you got that many berries from your plants, they were ready to produce!  Renovation should begin right after harvest, so it sounds like you've everything you should up to this point; kudos to you!  I talked about mulching before, so more information can be found here and here if the information here isn't sufficient to answer your questions.  In short, however, strawberry plants should be mulched for winter when the temperature of the soil is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter (this usually happens after multiple frosts).  The soil will retain heat longer than you might expect, and it usually takes several nights with temperatures in the low twenties and cool/cold daytime temperatures for the soil to cool sufficiently for the plants to enter dormancy.

So, when the plants are dormant, after the soil has cooled enough to force dormancy, they plants will wilt and look dead.  At that point, all the dead/wilted vegetative parts should be gently raked/removed to eliminate a happy home for potentially harmful fungi.  So, if you still have living-looking green shoots/leaflets at the center of your strawberry plants, it hasn't gotten cold enough yet where you live to mulch.  Unless there is a very significant cold snap, however, the temperature usually doesn't get cold enough quickly enough to drop the soil temps low enough to cause actual damage before you'll be confident your plants are dormant.

After your plants are dormant, a tip to help keep vibrant plants is to add a bit of loose soil to the weed-free surface of your raised beds around the crowns.  Since the majority of a strawberry plant’s roots are relatively close to the surface, spreading a little extra dirt around your strawberry plants can help the roots remain healthy and expansive.  Once that has been done, the plants should be protected/mulched for the coming harshness of winter. This can be accomplished with straw, row covers, pine needles or other suitable materials. The mulch will protect the plants from cold injury during the winter.  As you decide when to mulch strawberries for winter, remember that how much clean straw you use is important to gauge correctly.  If you live in zone 8, 9, 0r 10, you probably don't even need to mulch at all.  If you live in zone 6 or 7, a couple of inches of clean straw should suffice.  Zones 4 and 5 need aaround 6 inches, and the colder zones sometimes need up to a foot (best to contact your local agricultural extension for the specific recommendations for your area).

So, protect your strawberries, and you can look forward to many more gallons of berries next spring!  Good luck!

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6 thoughts on “When Should Strawberry Plants Be Mulched?

  1. WE have a bed of strawberies, this winter is very warm, can we transplant the plants to another bed? Our beds have become very dense and need to be thinned. Didn’t know if we could do it now Jan 2016 or do we need to wait intil spring? Thank you. Joan

    • joan covas,
      If the ground is not frozen yet, you can still transplant. You should get as much of the soil around the roots as you can for each plant, however, and all of the transplants may not make it. But, if you are careful, you should be able to successfully transplant most of them. Good luck!

  2. I followed instructions explicitly. I bought the variety I wanted, prepared the bed as instructed (my mistake!?) and planted my strawberries with anticipation on Oct 3rd 2016 KCMO USA). They are doing wonderful, TO WONDERFUL. It has been down to 20F two nights and near freezing several more. They are not going dormant. It is a raised bed and I would feel more “comfortable” if I was participating in their health. To mulch or not to mulch”

    Thanks Bill

    • Bill Warder,
      It sounds like they are doing just fine. Just give them a few more weeks. When the top vegetation wilts and dies back to the crown, it is time to mulch. Mulching before can damage the plants, so be patient! Good luck!

    • ScottW,
      I wouldn’t recommend that as the tarps/leaves combo likely won’t allow appropriate air circulation. And, the tarps will likely keep water from reaching the roots of the plants. If that happens, the lack of water will kill them surer than the winter temperatures! If you can obtain some clean straw or pine needles, they both would likely be better options. Good luck!

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