Although I am thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie in anticipation of Thanksgiving, I also am thinking about enjoying fresh strawberries on my cereal in the morning or some delicious strawberry/rhubarb pie.
In order to enjoy fresh strawberries next year, it is important to protect one’s strawberry beds over the winter. I always associate the Thanksgiving holiday with the time to mulch strawberry beds and protect them for the winter. I like to visualize it as putting them to bed for the winter.
The best time to mulch strawberries in Pennsylvania is from mid-November to mid-December. The exact date depends on local conditions in your area. But a good rule of thumb is to apply mulch when the temperature begins to stay around 20 to 25 degrees. If the temperature drops to 15 degrees or below, unprotected strawberry crowns could be injured. In any case, it is a good idea to mulch the plants after they’ve been exposed to a few good freezes and are fully dormant.
Now, how does mulch protect strawberry plants anyway? For one thing, a light covering of mulch helps prevent the alternate freezing and thawing of the ground. If they are not mulched, shallow-rooted strawberry plants can be heaved out of the ground, where they will then dry out and die. Mulch also tends to keep the soil at an even temperature and prevent wide swings. This keeps the plants dormant later into the spring and delays blossoming until after the critical frost period is over.
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If the whole strawberry planting is mulched, and not just the rows, then next spring’s grass and weeds will also be reduced, meaning less cultivating.
Recommended materials are straw, peat moss, pine needles, broom sedge or sudan grass. Pile the mulch four to six inches deep, but make sure you don’t smother the strawberry crowns. Other mulch materials that can be used are chopped cornstalks, ground cornstalks and sawdust, but these should be applied more lightly and not deeper than two inches to prevent smothering of the crowns.
Why not use leaves?
The reasons for not using leaves is that they tend to pack and will often smother the plants. If you mulch your strawberry beds, you can sit back and relax by the woodstove enjoy the smell of turkey and dream of those strawberry/rhubarb pies.