by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
As temperatures move closer to freezing and below, don’t forget to protect next season’s strawberry crop by giving those plants a nice cover of mulch.
The main threat to strawberry plants during the winter months are cold temperatures, excessive drying of the crowns and the repeated freezing and thawing of the soil which can heave a plant right out of the ground. Strawberry plants have already set next springs flower buds and plants that are not protected stand a chance of losing those buds. No flowers means no fruit.
Strawberry plants need time to get acclimated to the cooler fall temperatures before being “put to bed” for the winter. Plants that are mulched too soon are more susceptible to crown rot. Generally by late November to early December a layer of mulch can be applied as strawberry plants need to be mulched before the temperature drops below twenty degrees fahrenheit.
Weed free straw, pine needles or chopped corn stalks are recommended for mulching plants. Apply a three to five inch layer. This amount will eventually settle to a depth of about two to four inches. In windy, exposed areas, mulch can be kept in place by securing chicken wire or plastic fencing over the area. Leaves and grass are not a suitable mulch for strawberries as they can form a dense mat over the plants and smother them.
Strawberry plants growing in raised beds will need extra protection as raised bed soil can be several degrees colder than the soil at ground level. Place six to eight inches of mulch over raised beds. Strawberry plants growing in a strawberry jar should be placed in an unheated garage for the winter.
Be sure to check on your plants in the spring and remove the mulch at the first sign of green leaves. Actually the leaves may look a little yellow at first, but will green up as the sun hits them. Keep the mulch between the rows to provide weed control and to quickly cover the plants if a frost threatens and mulching around the plants will help keep the berries clean.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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