Strawberries! Perennial cold-climate berries that are surprisingly low maintenance and easy to grow! Each winter they die back, go dormant, then come back to life the following spring even more vibrant and productive than the season before! In this article, we’ll discuss how and why we must winterize and prepare our strawberry plants for the winter.
It’s a timing thing and they must not be done too early, or the cycle is broken, and your following year’s production could suffer. Fear not though fellow growers, this is easy stuff, we got this!
Like we said strawberries are perennials. Cold climate plants go dormant in the winter coming back the following spring. If this is something they do all on their own why do we have to intervene, I mean why should we do anything at all to prepare the strawberry plants for the coming winter. well there are 3 reasons.
3 Reasons to prepare strawberry plants for the coming winter
- Strawberry plants set next year’s flower buds in the fall. Exposure to temperatures below 15 degrees fahrenheit can damage or kill those buds, even if the main plant survives.
- Another reason is frost heaving. This is a natural annual process every winter where the cycle of freezing and thawing soil causes upward swelling of that first few inches. Being an extremely shallow rooted plant strawberries can actually be uprooted and exposed to the brutal winter and unlike the frosty buds being an annoying setback this one can actually be lethal to the plants.
- The third reason that we have to intervene and protect our strawberry plants before winter hits is competition, both from weeds and the plants themselves. Now is the time to reset your strawberry plants observing the spacing rules that we applied when we first planted them, left unchecked your strawberry mother plants will over produce themselves both by runners and by multiplying their crowns. Couple this with any weeds that may have taken hold and you may find your strawberry plants being choked out in which case production is obviously going to suffer.
Fortunately, all three of these things are easy fixes. So let’s get our gloves on and get to work.
Winterizing strawberries based on your Location
Now what you do with your strawberries in late fall early winter depends on where you live.
If you live in a climate where the worst your winter has to offer hovers around freezing or maybe just below you don’t really have to do anything. Other than weeding the area around your plants and possibly dividing and replanting the crowns as your strawberry plants begin to grow and out-compete themselves there’s not much you need to do.
The biggest concern for a mild climate like that would be to keep the patch weed-free as well as maintain those adult strawberry plants so that they don’t overgrow and overcrowd themselves.
Left unchecked strawberry plants will continue to grow and grow using up all the available space around them and eventually overcrowding themselves. So if your patch or container has started to become unruly or worse unproductive then no matter what your climate is you’re gonna need to take action.
What to do if strawberry plants are crowded?
The solution for this is to divide and replant, the process is simple because strawberries are so shallow-rooted.
- Go ahead and gently dig up your main strawberry plants dividing them into the best crowns.
- Replant the strongest ones at 6 to 10 inches for container plants and 12 to 18 inches for large raised beds and plants in the ground.
The key for this though is timing and it must be done early in the fall. You need to do strawberry mother plant division and replanting four to eight weeks before your first fall frost date.
There needs to be enough time for the plants to re-establish themselves. If it’s too close to winter it’s too late, you can’t divide these guys up. But if you did get there in time try to pick out the best ones and remember not to bury them. Strawberry plants are planted right at the surface.
Honestly, that’s all you really have to do to maintain your strawberry plants if your climate is mild enough, even snow won’t damage the plants, in fact, it’s a great insulator.
I would mulch for soil protection but that’s not unique to strawberry plants, I always mulch.
How to prepare strawberry plants if winters go below 20 degree fahrenheit
Okay, now we get into it, if you experience winters that go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit those first two things that we talked about earlier are gonna be an issue.
Strawberries can take the cold but they’re not designed to be exposed. Strawberry plants are built to be insulated by both leaves from themselves and other plants as well as by snow.
In our pots and beds that usually doesn’t happen as efficiently as it does in nature so we need to take action to protect the plants.
But the key with strawberry winter preparation is timing. We can’t do winter preparation on our strawberries too early because we need them to go into dormancy.
Like we said strawberries set next year’s fruit in the fall if they get too warm and the plants break bud before winter even hits that’s bad, you can kiss next year’s production goodbye.
So if your flower buds pop now before winter even hits that’s it that’s your next year’s fruit. Because of this, I don’t start to winterize my strawberries until after a couple of hard frosts, really set those plants into dormancy.
You can weed at any time but unless you’re dividing the plants because they’re overgrown don’t do anything until they’ve experienced a couple of frosts at least.
Weeding however can be done at any time. As long as you’re careful not to disturb the mother plants too much weeding now right before winter dormancy is ideal.
We have the time well more than we do in the spring and other than the epic dock with a 2-foot long taproot most weed should come up without a fight.
Protecting your strawberries from frost
Now protecting your strawberries from frost or exposure damage as well as frost heaving is simple. You just mulch. How much and how deep depends on where you live and how cold it’s going to get.
And one quick note on potted or container strawberry plants before we continue if you live in an area that’s gonna get below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time forget about overwintering these guys in pots unless you can protect them and keep them insulated without warming them up and breaking dormancy you’re better off growing them in the ground.
There just isn’t a big enough thermal buffer to keep those strawberry plants alive when the temperatures dip.
Mulching Strawberry Plants for Winter
Okay, now that we’re certain that the plants are entering dormancy or have already done so we can mulch. Many people myself included will clean the plants off of old leaves and trim the foliage right down. It’s not completely necessary but it does do two things.
- It gives you a clearer view of what’s happening in terms of weeds and whether or not your plants are being crowded and may need to be divided.
- Your mulch, likely straw is a far better insulator than the rotting wet leaf layer that the plants are leaving behind. Those rotting leaves can actually clump, surround the new buds, freeze and do damage.
A lot of people just leave them in place with great success but honestly, I like to get rid of them. How much straw you use is gonna depend on where you live. I can get away with one to two inches from my strawberries because I live in zone nine.
But if you live in a zone seven or cooler three to four inches of mulch on top of your strawberries aren’t out of the question. Once they’ve gone dormant and you’ve trimmed the leaves don’t worry about putting too much mulch on. That’ll never be a problem.
Any excess can simply be gently raked off in the spring right when the plants are sending out new leaves. For me, because I only use one to two inches of straw I just leave it in place all year long and the plants grow upright through it the following spring. It prevents any new weeds from forming and it sets up the plants nicely for next year.
All right strawberries are an important crop to us, I get that, and a lot of our success for next year’s garden is gonna depend on how well these guys do.
So let’s have a quick recap on the concepts of how to prepare strawberry plants for winter for the home gardener.
Recap on how to prepare strawberry plants for winter
Strawberries are a cold climate perennial requiring little but diligent maintenance. They grow and spring back to life on their own every year but eventually, your patch is going to outgrow itself and need attention.
But really overwintering this amazing berry is easy and just involves specific depths of straw mulch based on how cold your climate gets.
The key with the mulch is not to apply it too early as the plants need to be triggered into dormancy. When you break it down that maintenance of your patch as well as the timing of the mulch are the two biggest factors for continued strawberry success.
Strawberries are one of the most prolific crops we grow. Each year seems to get better than the previous. If you can protect your patch from the harshness of winter and set it up for success at the same time you’ll no doubt be swimming in strawberries next season.
I’ve got quite a few patches to do and I’ve only just started so I better get to work but I hope to see you and your strawberries next spring.
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