Winterizing Strawberry Plants

winterizing strawberry plantsWinterizing strawberry plants is necessary for gardeners in many areas. As the temperatures drop each year, people write in asking when and how to winterize strawberry plants. This post will cover the basics and help you determine how and when to protect your strawberry plants as the weather cools.

Why Winterize Strawberries?

Strawberry plants are perennial. They produce for many years after the initial planting, and they can thrive for very long periods if a rotation is used to keep plants fresh. But, there is a problem with perennial plants. How do they survive the freezing temperatures of the winter months? Well, strawberries are classified as forbs. Consequently, they don’t have the thick bark that protects many other perennials like most trees. If they don’t get extra protection (at least in the colder Zones), they will either die or suffer cold injury. Both death and injury can significantly hamper your plants’ ability to grow strawberries for you!

Simply put, you need to winterize strawberries to keep them alive and well.

When Is the Right Time to Winterize Strawberry Plants?

Strawberry plants should be winterized when they have entered dormancy and the temperature threatens to get cold enough to damage them. The time when strawberry plants go dormant varies. It depends upon the temperature and daylight in your location. As the days shorten in the fall, strawberry plants begin to march toward dormancy. Yet, it isn’t until the temperatures drop well below freezing for several nights in a row that the plants will actually begin their slumber.

For USDA Hardiness Zones 5 or lower (4, 3, etc.), plants will often enter dormancy by the end of November. For Zones 6 through 8, the plants will usually go dormant in December. You know the plants have gone dormant when you have a combination of cold temperatures and plants with dead-looking, wilted vegetation. If winterizing strawberry plants in mild winters, they will often live without any mulch or special winter care in Zones 7 and higher (8, 9).

How to Winterize Strawberry Plants in the Ground

First, ensure that the plants are truly dormant by checking the crowns to make certain there is no active new growth growing. Then, gently remove all the dead and wilted leaflets by carefully raking them out of your strawberry patch. Next, clear any accumulated leaves or debris from the strawberry beds. Finally, place a thick layer of a suitable mulch over the strawberry plants. The lower your USDA Hardiness Zone, the higher you need to pile the mulch. Any material that allows water to drain and air to circulate is an acceptable mulch. The most common, of course, is clean straw. Pine needles is also a good choice. Hay can be used, but it isn’t the best option. Hay almost always has loads of grass seeds and other weed seeds that will find a happy home alongside your strawberries making much more work for you when spring comes. Mulches that compact tightly or do not allow airflow are not appropriate for winterizing strawberry plants. Leaves, for example, will trap moisture. Wet, clumpy mulches will harbor pathogenic fungi and bacteria that can damage or kill or your strawberry plants, if they aren’t suffocated outright by a compressed mulch mat.

How to Winterize Potted Strawberry Plants

Potted strawberry plants are a little bit more difficult to care for because they are a little bit more vulnerable than in-ground plants. The soil in pots is quicker to freeze than the better-insulated soil of Terra Firma. Winterizing strawberry plants in containers can be done several ways, depending on how much effort you wish to expend.

Winterize Potted Strawberries in the Ground

If the ground isn’t already frozen when you decide to prepare your plants for winter (it should not be!), you can overwinter your strawberry plants in the ground. If you have a spare area, simply dig pot-sized holes and place the pots containing your dormant strawberry plants in them. Pack the dirt down around the sides of the pot tightly to simulate a natural planting and provide insulation. Then, mulch them just like you would if they were actually in-ground plantings. In the spring after the danger of cold injury has past, pull the pots up, wipe them off, and re-place or re-hang them in their designated places. If this method is too much work or is impossible…

Use Ambient Heat to Protect Potted Strawberry Plants

If your home is situated so that it has a side sheltered from the harshest winter weather, utilize it to help protect your strawberries. Homes are not perfectly insulated. If you heat your home, a lot of that heat is going to be lost through the walls during the winter. Placing your strawberry plants in containers along the wall of your home on the most sheltered side can keep them happy all winter in milder Zones. It is a good idea to mulch these plants as well. This is one of the easier ways to go about winterizing strawberry plants in pots!

Overwinter Strawberry Plants in the Garage

If you have an unheated garage, you can winterize strawberry plants in it as well. You typically don’t have to mulch them in a garage, but you do want to have them against an inner wall (to utilize the ambient heat) if you live in very cold locations. If you don’t, it can actually be best to keep them by an outer, unheated wall as long as the temperature inside the garage doesn’t get much below the upper 20s.

Strawberry plants require water over the winter, however. So, be sure to check the soil moisture levels. If the soil drys completely out, the plants will die. If the soil stays soggy, they will probably die as well. Water just enough each week to keep the soil slightly damp. An easy way to achieve an appropriate level of moisture is to place a handful of snow (if available) on each potted strawberry plant once a week. The snow gradually melts and keeps the soil moist, but not soggy.

Winterizing Strawberry Plants in Non-Standard Containers

Most people plant strawberries in pots. But, lots of people use other methods as well. Strawberry pyramids and tires and cinder block plantings can generally be treated like plants in the ground (just mulch a bit extra due to the greater surface area exposed to wind). Overwintering strawberry towers or winterizing strawberry plants planted in gutters or pipe systems is more difficult. If the strawberry towers or gutters/pipes can be moved into the garage or other similar shelter, they will often do better than if left suspended above the ground and exposed to all the harshest weather winter can throw at them. If that isn’t possible, one option is to wrap the containers in an insulating-yet-breathable material (like burlap) after dormancy has arrived. Several layers will need to be applied to offer sufficient protection, so it is also necessary to check the soil to ensure it remains moist. That may involve unwrapping and re-wrapping several times during the winter (which is a frozen pain in the fingers). But, if you live in colder Zones, it has to be done if you want happy and productive plants in the spring.

Winterizing Strawberries: Conclusion

winterizing strawberriesRegardless of how you accomplish the task, most people will have to protect their strawberries in some way over the winter months. Cold injury is particularly problematic for strawberry plants since they produce fruit by means of perennating buds. In short, the flowers that become strawberries aren’t formed in the spring. They get their start during the waning warm days of the previous year in the form of flower buds in the crown of the strawberry plant. If strawberry plants have poor care or nutrition during the end of August, September, and October, they won’t form many buds. If the plants suffer cold injury, the buds are be damaged. When the buds are damaged by the winter weather, no flowers are produced when spring rolls around. And everyone knows that no flowers means no strawberries.

So, pay attention to your plants in the fall. And, protect them through the winter by appropriately winterizing strawberry plants. Then, when spring arrives, you’ll be harvesting heaps of delightful and delicious strawberries! If you want to see more, follow up with: Strawberry Flowers and Overwintering Strawberries. Good luck!

Learn more:
Growing Strawberries in Cold Weather
Fall Strawberry Plants
Strawberry Plants and Cold Injury

25 thoughts on “Winterizing Strawberry Plants”

  1. Hi!

    Just some quick questions/clarifications on strawberry plants in Zone 9. We rarely get below freezing in my area (february has consistent lows in the high 30s, but I’ve never seen us reach the 20s). I am assuming my plants will not go dormant. Do I continue caring for them as normal (re: watering, etc.) during the winter, or should I modify my routine somehow? And will they act as perennials here, or will the following years be poor?

    Thanks! Justin

  2. I live in Colorado Springs and this is the first time growing strawberries. I am growing them in rain gutter. How should I insulate them for the coming winter?

  3. We have a 3 ft raised strawberry patch? First winter? What do you recommend to keep them alive and thriving by spring ? We live in North Carolina and I’ve heard by the Farmer’s Almanac it’s going to be a hard winter for us not even guessing how the strawberries will hold up?

  4. Hi,

    I am overwintering my strawberries in a storage unit…no light. They are window box self-watering containers. Will that be enough water to last over the winter (I believe one planter holds four gallons of water and the other holds two gallons. they are the type of self-watering containers with the fabric strip at the bottom of the pot. Also, how early should I be bringing them out in the spring? I have a deck that is full sun for much of the day, but I live in Canada and the temperatures are cold…zone 5. I was planning on leaving them in the pot then re-potting with fresh soil in the spring. thanks

  5. Can I use landscaping fabric to cover my strawberry bed in the winter? They are planted in a 3×5 foot x 1.5 ft deep elevated bed in Chicago suburbs..thank you

  6. Mr Strawberry

    First off, thank you for all of the information you’ve given us! It’s been a great help while I’m learning to grow these awesome little plants!

    I am in Zone 9b, on the northern coast of California. I planted 20 everbearing strawberries from starts that I ordered out of Tennessee, and they have been wonderful this summer. I planted them in early April (because I forgot that I had them, honestly, and they were left in my fridge a bit too long). I’ve been pinching off the buds, as this is the first year I’ve had them, but I missed a few and they grew into the sweetest, plumpest, juiciest strawberries I’ve ever had. I do, however, have a few questions.

    I am growing them in gutter planters, so the soil is rather shallow (about 3 inches deep). How often should I fertilize them, and do you have a recommendation for what fertilizer to use? I have been making ‘fertilizer tea’ out of a local brand of dry organic garden fertilizer in the meantime, watering them with the tea, and spreading the leftover ‘mulch’ (ew lol) over the top of the soil, to avoid disturbing the shallow roots.

    Sine I am growing them in gutters, and I am in zone 9b, what sort of winterization should I do, if any? It seldom gets below freezing here, even in the coldest months (our record cold here is 17* in December, followed by 20* in January, but the average low is about 40*), will this be cold enough to make the plants go dormant, but not so cold they will be damaged?

    Are the gutter planters a decent long-term viable setup? I love how much space they save and how much I can plant in such a small area, but I am concerned that the plants will eventually deplete the soil.

    How closely should I allow the plants to grow? I started out spacing them about 16″ or so apart (there were seven in two of the planters and six in the lowest) but I have allowed them to send out runners and clone themselves, so now I am up to 23, with the cloned plants rooting directly between the original plants, about 8 inches apart from each other.

    Should I clip off the runners and transplant them, or allow them to stay where I have guided them to rooting (by positioning the rooting section where I wanted it to sit)?

    Thank you so much for all of your time and information!

  7. I cover my plants with sun shade cloth. I leave it somewhat loose to give the plants air and room. Not sure why I started doing this, but 2 years ago, I didn’t get them covered and our berries the following year where horrible. Hardly worth the picking. All other years they were huge and very abundant. So this past winter I made sure to cover them and we have hundreds of berries and large! I also have the bed done in red mulch leaving room around the base of the plant for air and water. I used to do straw and half would blow away and/or get moldy.

  8. Hello, thank you for this article. I have a couple strawberry plants in pots that I have brought into an unheated back stairwell of the apartment building I live in (in Chicago, some 5 I believe). I am wondering if that’s OK because there are windows in the back unheated area, and the plants still have a lot of green leaves. Will they still go dormant in the unheated area, or should I leave them outdoors until it’s consistently cold. Also, should I cover the plants with something to block the light from the windows?

    • Erin,
      Yes, if the area is unheated, they should still go dormant. Just be sure to water them occasionally to keep the roots from drying out! Good luck!

  9. I have 2 beautiful plants in hanging containers. I live in Massachusetts and don’t have a basement or garage. But could I put them in the ground (in containers) close to the dryer vet? It’s on the north side of the house and gets the morning sunshine

    • Melissa Falconer,
      You could dig pot-shaped holes and put them in the ground, cover them with straw, then remove them again in the spring. That should work well! You shouldn’t put the pots under the dryer vent. Good luck!

  10. Hi I am in zone 5 and last year covered my strawberries with apox 6 inches of straw then when we uncovered them noticed we had a lot of dead leaves and strawberries the plants looked wonderful after a while but did not produce very well ..some one told me to either mowed the strawberries down or cut them down to the ground but not sure what that would do any suggestions on the best way for me over winter my berries and have a good season next year they will be 3 years old next year …

  11. planted strawberries for first time first of april.when should i mulch the plants in zone 5? do i cover the entire plant? if i use straw how thick? would using a roll cover be beneficial?

  12. I am in zone 6b and have grown my strawberries in a 2X4 raised bed. Last winter a blanket of snow covered them for most of late winter giving me beautiful plants and berries this year. I have purchased a 2X4 elevated bed 10″ deep and will be transplanting them soon. The area is where the south winds blow through. I plan on taping heavy duty plastic to the fence the bed is against. Will that be enough precaution to keep the roots from being killed this winter?

  13. I have strawberries growing great in Walmart poly bags. I can put them in a garage that stays about 45 to maybe 50 degrees all winter. Is 45 degrees too high a temperaure?

    • John,
      With the lack of light in a garage, they will probably stay dormant (just don’t forget to water them periodically!). I’d place them as far away from the heated walls as you can. However, if your Zone is milder, you may just want to leave them outside against a heated and sheltered wall of your house and only put them in the garage if you are going to get really cold temperatures. Good luck!

  14. I grow strawberries in a region of India that has a 4-month long monsoon. It is usual practice to let the plants die during this time and buy new plants once the monsoon is over. Would it be meaningful to transfer the plants to pots (from their raised beds) and hold in a greenhouse? The variety I plant is Nabila…

    • Madhavi,
      It is possible that doing so will keep the plants alive, but it is likely more cost-efficient to just buy new plants instead of transplanting all of them (unless you just have a few in your personal garden). Good luck!

      • Mr Stawberry,
        We have planted 1200 strawberry plants under plastic mulch row cover. We live in the hill country of Texas and have been experiencing below average, 20-30 degree temps recently with wind chill reading 10-15. It has not really warmed too much during the day and still remains near freezing at night. There seems to be some frost damage to the outer leaves, but the growth below the plastic line is green with no damage.
        1. Should I cut back the dead leaves now or wait until this cold snap is over?
        2. When should I fertilize to stimulate new growth?
        Thanks so much!

      • I’m in zone 5. Have plants in coco baskets. I plan to dig holes and sink the baskets in ground n mulch 6-8″ w/straw once they are dormant. Do I also need to cover them? Or is the coco basket enuf to insulate the plants?


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