Winterizing Strawberries

Guest blogger Karen Weiland tickles our fresh fruit fancy by instructing us on how to winterize our strawberries.

Oh my…fresh berries…can’t wait for them to arrive!

Read on for Karen’s instructions….

Applying a protective layer of mulch to strawberries is probably one of the last gardening chores to be done before settling in to the winter season.

Next year’s buds have already been set by the plant and risk being destroyed if not properly protected from the harsh winter conditions that can occur in our zone 5 growing area.  Fully dormant flower buds can be damaged at temperatures below 15 degrees F.  Not only can the buds be destroyed by the cold, but the alternate freezing and thawing that can occur can cause the roots to break and the plants to be lifted right out of the ground.  Applying a layer of mulch to strawberry plants will insulate them from the critically low temperatures which will minimize the soil heaving and decrease the desiccation of the plant crowns.  In addition to insulation, applying a layer of mulch protects the plant from developing black root rot.  Plants that have been subjected to heaving and/or extremely cold temperatures run the risk of developing this disease.

It is important to wait to apply the selected mulch until the plants have gone dormant.  The leaves will change from a bright green to a dull green or gray as the plant goes dormant.  Applying mulch too early can cause the crown of the plant to rot.  In general, they should be mulched after the plants have been exposed to two or three days of temperatures around 20 degrees F, usually by late November or early December here in northern Indiana.

There are several different kinds of mulch that can be used.  Among them are weed-free straw or chopped cornstalks, corncobs or bark chips.  I like to use straw as I can apply it in more of a fluffed up manner so not to smother the plants.   Apply about a 4 to 6-inch layer (2 to 3-inch layer after settling).  It is recommended to not use leaves or grass clippings as they tend to mat down and smother the plants.

Remove the mulch in the early spring, leaving it lay in the aisle to use as a quick cover in the event of a nasty freeze.  Leave a thin layer of straw on the rows so the plants can grow up through it and be provided with a clean surface for the berries to ripen on.

As always, Happy Gardening!

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