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

99 thoughts on “Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury”

  1. hello mr/mrs strawberry.
    i have been growing strawberries in a white plastic gutter attached to my terrace railing. last year i had loads of strawberries. all the plants died over the winter and i had to plant new. this year there was not more than 10 strawberries out of the 12 or so plants i have. i would like to save these plants for next year. what should i do? as i live in brooklyn, ny i have nowhere to get straw.

    • This happened to me in Montana. In cold areas where winter temps go from freezing to thawing throughout winter plants won’t survive in containers. Have to be in the ground and covered. Can put containers in heated garage and water about once a month and they will survive and can be put outside in spring.

  2. I’m in SW Virginia. Plan on planting raised beds with plastic mulch.
    It’s very rural. Can 300 plants survive the animals & birds.

  3. so I have a strawberry plant and I didn’t cover it and we had a very snowy winter and we have one cold snap it got 70 degrees for 1 day and I think there was snow on it when the cold snap happened and I’m wondering if I should just replant since I planted it in 2018 and I got barely any strawberries..l got less than a dozen RIPE ones.

  4. 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?

    • 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!

  5. 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.

    • Marilyn,
      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!

  6. Hi,
    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!

    • Emily,
      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!

  7. 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?

    • 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!

  8. 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.

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

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

    • 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!

  10. 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!

    • Michelle,
      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!

  11. 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

    • cris,
      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!

  12. 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?

    • Lauren,
      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!

  13. 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.

    • 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!

  14. 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?

    • Anthony,
      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!

  15. 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?

    • Ashley,
      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!

  16. 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 🙂

    • Carrie,
      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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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

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

  19. Hi,
    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.

    • Pete,
      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!

  20. 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 ^_^

  21. 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.

    • 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!

  22. 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.

    • Marilyn,
      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!

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