Garden Strawberry Plants – Overwintering Strawberries

Strawberries are perennial plants, meaning that they come back each year for several years if they survive through the winter months. Some gardeners treat strawberries like any other annual plant and pull them once their main growing season is over, especially in hotter climates where the plants are unable to become dormant, but it’s easier to just let them overwinter like they naturally want to and take care of a strawberry patch over the years. The types of strawberries that benefit the most from overwintering are the June-bearing varieties, since their one, large harvest period allows for a one, equally large rest period. Trying to overwinter everbearing or day-neutral varieties can potentially weaken the plants, as they keep producing berries for months on end without a rest period.

Preparing Strawberry Plants for Winter

The first thing you want to do, especially if you have established June-bearing strawberries, is “renovate” the plants once they stop producing flowers, which usually occurs in late summer or early fall. Renovating simply means trimming the plants back to around 2 inches high, which culls diseases and prevents insects from worming inside the plants for the winter.

Clear the plant debris from the area and then either give the plants some fertilizer or organic compost to renew the soil. This process should ideally happen a week or so before the first frost, so that the plants are able to go dormant without killing any new buds or growth.

Caring for Strawberries Throughout the Winter

After a few light frosts, the plants should be fully dormant and, if you’re in a region with very mild winters, you only need to keep them lightly watered every now and again through the season. For regions with moderate winters, you’ll have to put a layer of mulch on top of the plants to make sure they don’t die from repeated freezing temperatures. A two to three inch thick mulch of straw or pine needles is sufficient for most regions, but if you have incredibly harsh or cold winters, more mulch might be needed (and in that case, the more mulch the better). You may also want to consider a thermal blanket or two if winter temperatures are constantly below freezing.

Once the ambient air and soil temperatures are consistently above freezing and there are signs of new plant growth (which will be either white, yellow or green) across 25% of the plants, remove the mulch. This should happen around early spring in cooler climates, give or take microclimate oddities. If you have the threat of a late frost occurring while the plants are blooming, put a temporary layer of mulch over the top to protect the flowers from frost.

Protecting Potted Strawberries from the Cold

If you have potted strawberry plants, you should put them in an insulating shelter come late summer/early fall and keep track of the soil temperature in the pots, since the pots lose heat easily. Since pots don’t ever get natural precipitation like outdoor plots or garden beds, it’s very important to make sure they get enough water while dormant. If the soil is completely dry, the plants are at high risk of dying; if the soil is too wet, the plants might rot or be struck by disease. Once the outside temperature is consistently above freezing, you can put the pots back outside and allow them to come out of dormancy.

Conclusion

Overwintering is typically a good idea for strawberries, as it allows them to regain their strength from fruiting and can yield better, bigger harvests of strawberries in coming years. Of course, the mother plants eventually weaken after several years of production, but it’s easy enough to replace the old plants with either entirely new plants or runners from the mother plants. It’s less stressful and sometimes cheaper to treat strawberries as the perennials they naturally are instead of as annual plants, though some growing zones are forced to pull them and replant new ones each year due to not having sufficient winters for dormancy. As long as you keep the soil temperature warm enough to not instantly kill the roots and the dormant shoots sufficiently covered, your strawberries will live through even a big snow. They might even love you for it!

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