Q: How Should I be Caring for Strawberry Plants in Warm Winters?
Should I cut my plants back before mulching? If so, how much? I am growing Yellow Wonder yellow alpine strawberries and they were really unique and tasty berries last summer, and very happy plants – not fussy at all. I am in Brooklyn, NY z7a and our weather this winter is record breaking warm. I have left my strawberries (and some of my flowers and herbs) as they were through the growing season. My strawberries are still flowering, and even some cavalier fruits are going for it! So I’ve left them alone because I was just so darn curious what they would do in this extremely unseasonable weather. But it may actually finally become winter here soon, I hope, so I would like to know, 1- should I cut back healthy vegetation before covering, and 2- anything else I need to know for a strangely warm and unpredictable winter season in my zone? Thanks so much for your great site!
Answer to: Warm Winter Care for Strawberry Plants?
It has been unseasonably warm in most of the USA this past month or two. While that is great for heating bills, it causes confusion for a lot of plants that typically go dormant in the temperate regions. Strawberries are one such easily-confused plant. Being relatively small forbs, they don’t have the rigidity of larger plants to allow them to grow big and strong. So, they have cute little habits that rarely grow taller than 12 inches. The vegetative characteristics of strawberry plants, however, make them easily damaged by the colder parts of winter in the temperate regions where it is native. Fortunately, the crowns at the soil level are a bit hardier, and the roots can survive even extreme temperatures with just a bit of extra care.
When colder weather finally sets up shop for the rest of the winter (probably in the next week or two), all the confusion caused by this warmer weather will, for better or worse, clear up. When the cold weather hits, the vegetative parts of the plants will wilt and die back. Once that happens, the plants will be entering dormancy. If you have any berries close to ripening, you can go ahead and let them finish up, but you’ll want to pick them prior to any hard frost as they’ll be damaged and get soggy/squishy after that. If you aren’t going to be able to let them ripen, it is best to go ahead and pick them off so that the plant doesn’t use up unnecessary energy trying to ripen them to no avail. Since next spring’s strawberries are forming during the fall and up until dormancy as perennating buds within the crown, encouraging the plants to devote as much energy to that task as possible is a good idea as it helps next year’s crop be heavier.
So, to specifically answer your question, you shouldn’t cover with mulch until the plants are dormant. But, you should gently rake or otherwise remove any dead/wilted vegetation prior to covering once your plants have entered dormancy. In Zone 7a, however, it is quite possible that your plants will survive without covering at all unless the temperatures go well below the normal for Zone 7a.
Regardless, best of luck in your strawberry growing endeavors!