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

Learn more:
Growing Strawberries in Cold Weather
Fall Strawberry Plants
Winterizing Strawberry Plants

101 thoughts on “Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury”

  1. We have had a good cold snap, and 3-4 inches of snow on the strawberry bed before I was able to mulch with straw. We have had a week of cold below freezing night since and are going to warm into the 40s next week. Can I cover with straw. Next week after snow melt or do it right away? And will the snow harm the plant? It is a mat of plants that need to be thinner currently.

  2. I know its not common practice to transplant strongly rooted runners in the late winter (February in Virginia) but I have found that I have more success doing this then when I try to transplant in the warm and hot months. I’ll have to wait and see for sure, but is there any science behind why its easier to transplant a runner in the winter than the spring? The 50-75 plants I dug up and moved all seem to be healthy, granted this winter was a bit warmer than recent years, and I soaked the roots in rain water for several hours to overnight before I planted them in new beds.

  3. Mr. Strawberry,
    I have some strawberries in a raised garden. They seem to be confused because when I uncover them, I see nothing but dirt. I think they have died. But, about August or September they come to life. What am I doing wrong. My plants that are actually in the ground still look like strawberry plants when I uncover them. It’s jsut the ones in the raised garden that are confused as to when to grow and produce! Help!

  4. It’s currently 34 degrees right now (6 am) I cover my potted strawberry plant with a towel and move it closer to the house. When the sun comes up, I uncover it and move it back out. It gets 50-60 ish during the day, and it is fine. I did give it a shot of (diluted) plant food, it’s actually producing lots of strawberries😄

  5. Mr. Strawberry my friend’s son has a strawberry plant n the last few weeks it’s been high 80s n low 90s outside n now it has dropped to mid 50s will his plant be ok to stay outside he is very worried his plant will die


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