Strawberry bush euonymus americanus

Growing Strawberry Bushes – Learn How To Grow A Strawberry Bush

Strawberry bush euonymus (Euonymus americanus) is a plant native to the southeastern United States and categorized in the Celastraceae family. Growing strawberry bushes are referred to by several other names including: hearts-a-busting, hearts filled with love, and brooke euonymus, with the former two a reference to its unique blossoms resembling tiny breaking hearts.

What is a Strawberry Bush?

Strawberry bush euonymus is a deciduous plant with a thicket-like habit of around 6 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. Found in forested or woodland areas as an understory plant and often in swampy areas, strawberry bush has inconspicuous cream-hued blooms with 4-inch serrated leaves on green stems.

The plant’s autumn fruit (September through October) is the real show stopper, with warty scarlet capsules that burst open to reveal orange berries while the foliage morphs into a yellowish green shade.

How to Grow a Strawberry Bush

Now that we have nailed down what it is, learning how to grow a strawberry bush appears to be the next order of business. Growing strawberry bushes can occur in USDA zones 6-9.

The plant flourishes in partial shade, preferring conditions similar to those of its natural habitat, including moist soil. As such, this specimen works well in a mixed native planted border, as an informal hedge, as part of woodland mass plantings, as a wildlife habitat and for its showy fruit and foliage in the autumn.

Propagation is attained by seed. Seeds from this Euonymus species need to be cold stratified for at least three or four months, either wrapped in a damp paper towel, then in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or naturally stratified just under the surface of the soil outside during winter months. Cuttings for growing strawberry bushes may also be rooted year round and the plant itself is easy to divide and multiply.

Care of Strawberry Bush

Water the young plants well and continue to water moderately thereafter. Otherwise, this slow to moderately growing bush is reasonably drought tolerant.

Strawberry bush euonymus needs only light fertilization.

Some resources report that this varietal is prone to the same pests (such as scale and whiteflies) as other Euonymus plants, like burning bush. What is certain is that this plant is intoxicating to deer populations and they can indeed decimate the foliage and tender shoots when browsing.

The strawberry bush is also prone to suckering, which may be pruned or left to grow as in nature.

Plant of the Week: Strawberry Bush

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Strawberry Bush
Latin: (Euonymus americanus)

Strawberry bush is an inconspicuous native shrub until it produces its bright red fruit each fall.

In a shaded area on the edge of my garden grows a strawberry bush that goes unnoticed except in the fall when it produces its colorful fruit. But like all garden plants, it has a back story, one that tells of fearsome gods and broken hearts.

Euonymus americanus is a member of the bittersweet family that grows as a 6- to 8-foot tall slender-stemmed, deciduous shrub in shady moist locations in the southeastern states and as far north as southern New York. Its slender stems are four-sided and bear opposite, 2-inch long lance-shaped leaves that turn subtle shades of red in the fall. Plants tend to sucker from the roots and in moist locations can form thickets.

Five-petaled, star-shaped greenish flowers about a quarter-inch across appear scattered about the branches in late spring after the leaves have appeared. Though attractive up close, they’re too small to be effective from a distance.

In September, inflated three- to five-lobed warty, pinkish-red capsules up to three-fourths inch across and dangling on slender peduncles begin popping open to display the pea-sized, bright orange-red berries inside. The common names, strawberry bush and hearts-a-bustin’, come from the showy fruit display, which is quite attractive on heavy-laden bushes.

Strawberry bush is one of 130 species of euonymus, most of which are found in Asia; three are found in the woodlands of eastern North America. Like all plants, this one has several common names, including hearts-a-bustin’ and American spindletree. If you look at the backside of a fruit capsule, it’s easy to see the heart-shaped segments of the capsule and see why it bears that common name.

The spindletree reference is a transference for E. europaeus, a tree-sized version native throughout Europe. The European species was once used as a source for wooden spindles when wool was the primary choice for clothing.

The Latin name Euonymus is an old name used for the plant in Southern Europe and derived from the Greek word Euonyme. In Greek mythology, Euonyme, which means “her whose name is good,” was the mother of avenging deities responsible for suffering in everyday life. This bit of reverse psychology – giving a good name to a god responsible for causing grief – applied to the spindletree because the foliage was deadly if eaten by sheep.

Strawberry bush is a good shrub for naturalizing in out of the way locations in the garden. It will grow in full shade or part sun but afternoon sun should be avoided. It does best in areas with some summertime moisture and is often found in the wild alongside streams. It’s a good companion plant with other shady woodlanders such as spicebush or witch hazel. It reseeds freely in moist locations.

In areas with heavy deer populations, it’s a favorite for deer browse. Like all Euonymus, it’s susceptible to euonymus scale, but the insect doesn’t do as much damage as is found on the evergreen species.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – October 10, 2008

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

The strawberry bush rewards those who can wait until fall to enjoy its bright red beauty.

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I may have made this point before, but I’m no big enthusiast for autumn. It gets cold. The plants die. The drowsy summer sounds of cicadas and tree frogs are replaced by a whining chorus of leaf blowers. And then winter comes.

What’s to like?

OK, I’ll concede that fall (which in my book is mostly just a prelude to the long, dark, coat-wearing months) may have a few redeeming qualities, including those fleeting, perfect autumn afternoons when the great burst of bright colors stands out against a deep blue sky. And then there are those certain native plants that almost shine in autumn as the sea of undifferentiated green that is summer is gradually replaced by scarlets and golds and deep, ruddy reds. One of these plants is euonymus americanus, a.k.a. “strawberry bush,” a.k.a. (and with a colloquial name like this, one is tempted never to call it anything else) “hearts-a-bustin’.”

In the spring and summer, it is a pleasant green shrub not strikingly distinguishable from any other pleasant green shrub. Even its advocates admit this. When the Virginia Native Plant Society’s John Clayton Chapter, which encompasses the Williamsburg, Hampton and Northern Neck areas, named strawberry bush its “Wildflower of the Month” in October 2010, the description began with this, er, ringing endorsement: “Strawberry bush is a shade-loving shrub that goes unnoticed much of the year.”

If, however, you did somehow happen to notice your nearby euonymus americanus, you would see that it has narrowly oval, pointed, slightly toothed green leaves and a tidy upright habit; it’s not one of those plants that goes sprawling all over the place like a layabout teenager on summer break.

The blooms of the strawberry bush, though entertainingly odd little creatures, could not by any generous stretch of the imagination be called “showy.” Each sits at the end of its own long stem (or “pedicel,” if you prefer the technical term). They are flat, with greenish-yellow shading into a kind of purplish antique rose, and at their center is a disc (not the technical term) with stubby pistils and stamen poking out. Frankly, the thing looks like some alien craft that got lost from the mother ship.

The strawberry bush flowers in early summer. Then comes, in the memorably vivid words of Helen Hamilton of the Virginia Native Plant Society, the “warty fruit covering.” This starts out a pale green, and it is the promise that really, no kidding, things are going to get interesting for those of you with the patience to wait.

Because come autumn—yes fall, yes that time of year—hearts-a-bustin’ (or sometimes, “bursting”) earns its name and finally hits its stride. Those warty fruit coverings ripen into a brilliant fuchsia. The leaves turn a lovely pinkish-red. And then the fruit coverings burst open to reveal the bright, shiny red fruit within. This is the strawberry bush’s grand moment on the stage before winter shoulders in to retire it back to the chorus line for another year.

Some parts of the strawberry bush are supposed to have medicinal value, but I wouldn’t recommend testing this theory with experimental practice. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Guide notes that “the seed is a strong laxative,” and elsewhere—for example, in the Virginia Native Plant Society write-up—this point is made more explicitly: The words “severe diarrhea” come into play. A widely reported but unconfirmed claim found across the Internet adds that the seeds can also cause cardiac arrest.

On the other hand, if you are deer, you apparently cannot resist the strawberry bush. Jan Newton, who is director of the education committee for the Virginia Native Plant Society, says, “Strawberry bush is often referred to as ‘deer candy.’” In fact—though I’m not quite sure how you measure the absence of something—according to the USDA’s Plant Guide, you know when you have too many deer because all the wild strawberry bush disappears.

So while this shade-happy understory shrub makes a great ornamental plant, if you lovingly add a bunch of these to your garden (and you don’t have a tall fence and possibly also a large dog for good measure) you may come out one morning to find them all eaten to the ground, and then your own heart will be a-bustin’ as well.

Do Strawberries Grow On Trees?

Strawberries are easy to recognize, but there are many misconceptions about how they exactly grow. Do strawberries grow on trees, bushes, or vines? This guide attempts to clarify the identity of the strawberry plant to help gardeners know what to expect.

Do Strawberries Grow on Trees?

There are several fruits that grow on trees: oranges, apples, coconuts, and mangoes, to name a few. However, strawberries are not part of the list. The erroneous belief that strawberries grow on trees might be caused in part by the existence of the strawberry tree or Arbutus unedo.

You see, the strawberry tree doesn’t actually grow any of the strawberries you’re familiar with. These do develop small red fruits, but the berries are similar to the real strawberries in color alone. If you spot these trees—particularly in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11—it’d be best to look closely.

Do Strawberries Grow on Bushes?

Perhaps strawberries are grown on bushes if not on trees. After all, they grow above the ground. But unlike bushes such as oakleaf hydrangea and rhododendron, a strawberry plant doesn’t have woody stems that remain upright. So it technically isn’t a bush.

Still, it’s not wrong to state that strawberry bushes exist. The issue is that these are similar to the so-called strawberry trees in that they do not bear strawberries. Instead, the strawberry bush or Euonymus americanus grows five-lobed crimson red fruits about 0.75 inches in diameter in fall.

Do Strawberries Grow on Vines?

While it’s true that you can find strawberries on trellises, they do not grow on vines. What they have are runners — stems that develop horizontally and grow buds on their end tips. In time, these buds grow into new strawberry plants.

Furthermore, the growth pattern of strawberry plants differs from real vine plants like wisteria and bougainvillea. Strawberries only develop long stems for reproductive purposes while vines do so on a regular basis.

So what do strawberries grow on? Most of them have runners — not vines, bushes, or trees. Some varieties of strawberries develop longer runners than others, which is why gardeners utilize trellises so that they grow vertically instead of spreading around the garden.

Runners typically grow after a month. At this point, you should arrange them already using trellises and garden tape. If you want more strawberries, let the runners grow and develop buds. Otherwise, you can always cut them down if they are already affecting other plants.

What Are Strawberries?

By now you’ve learned that it’s not correct to say that strawberries grow on vines. So what are they? They fit the classification of a forb, which is a flowering plant characterized by its non-woody stems. Because forbs do not have enough woody tissue, they are relatively shorter than bushes or shrubs.

There are a lot of hybrid strawberries and cultivars, but the most common species is the Fragaria x ananassa or the garden strawberry. Moreover, there are three types of strawberry plants: day-neutral, ever-bearing, and June-bearing strawberries.

The first type consistently grows its fruits, runners, and end-tip buds when it’s between 35 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, ever-bearing strawberry plants develop their buds during summer and autumn. Those that grow in summer bear fruit in autumn and vice-versa.

Third, the June-bearing varieties are highly sensitive to the length of the day. Their buds develop during fall while the flowers and fruits grow in spring. Only when summer arrives will the runners form as well. But while they require a year to harvest, the quantity more than makes up for it.

All in all, we hope this guide helped you understand how exactly strawberry plants grow and reproduce. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to send us a comment.

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Quick Guide to Growing Strawberries

  • Plant strawberries in spring or fall based on your growing zone. In-ground gardens, raised beds, and containers are all excellent growing areas.
  • Give strawberries room for runners by planting them 18 inches apart. Strawberries can be grown in a variety of ways, but make sure they get 8 or more hours of sun and are planted in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
  • Give your native soil a boost by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. Consider a premium bagged potting mix for growing in containers.
  • Give plants 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly, and avoid wetting the leaves.
  • Promote excellent fruit production by keeping plants fed with a continuous-release fertilizer.
  • Harvest ripe strawberries in the cool of morning and refrigerate them right away.

The Strawberry Life Cycle

Success with strawberries asks that you understand their life cycle. Like most hardy perennials, strawberries die back in winter and start growing vigorously as the soil warms in spring. After bearing fruit (as early as February in Florida, or June farther north), many types of strawberries produce numerous runners with baby plants at the tips. Those runners often root themselves nearby yet remain attached to the mother plant. These types of strawberries produce more fruit if you clip off most of the runners, allowing each plant to produce no more than 3 daughter plants each summer. (Some varieties of strawberries produce few to no runners.)

Exhausted from producing fruit and offspring, strawberries typically take a second rest period during summer’s second half. When kept weeded and lightly watered, most parent plants – and their offspring – perk up and grow again for a while in the fall. Even though it may look like little is going on with strawberries in September, the plants are busy during the fall months developing the latent buds that will grow into next spring’s flowers.

From zone 6 northward, strawberries are best planted in spring so they will be well-rooted by the following winter. Containers can be replanted in late summer and moved to a cool, protected place such as an unheated garage during the coldest months.

From zone 7 southward, strawberries can be planted in fall. (In Florida and other warm, humid coastal areas, many are grown as cool weather annuals.) Once a planting is established, simply lift your healthiest plants each September, and replant them in a freshly renovated site.

Growing strawberries doesn’t have to entail so much work, though. In all areas, strawberries can be allowed to grow into a vibrant green ground cover that requires little maintenance. The plants won’t bear as heavily as more intensively managed plants, but they will still produce delicious berries, year after year.

Growing Strawberries in the Southeast

Growing Strawberries in the Southeast:

Are Strawberries annuals or perennials?

The individual strawberry plant is a short-term perennial. A mother plant can survive for several years and her growth habit will eventually contribute to her decline, but not before she creates dozens of daughters to take her place. Since all the growth of a strawberry plant originates from the crown and the crown is actually a woody stem with very short internodes, each year the mother plant lives, the crown migrates upward. This will eventually put the crown too high above the soil line and susceptible to winter injury and summer dehydration. If you keep your strawberry plants for several years, you’ll notice that the original mother plants you set out will eventually die off, and the daughters will carry on the patch from year to year.

What is a ‘Strawberry Runner’?

Strawberries have their year planned out very precisely, and they use their time wisely. When the days are long, above 13.5 hours sunlight per day, strawberries generate runners or daughters which are new plants that emerge from the mother plant. Runners are botanically ‘stolons’, or above-ground stems that are able to root at each node and create new plants at the end of the stolon. For strawberries, these are the daughter plants and each mother plant has the ability to generate many daughters per season. It is important to know about this habit of strawberries so you can predict when the plants will be behaving this way and know what you want to do about it. It can be viewed as either a resource to be captured (free new plants!!) or a pest that creates plantings that are too dense to be productive if left unchecked (“the strawberry weed”).

In the NC Piedmont, this time period of 13.5+ hours of daylight and above is the first week of May to the first week of August. You could expect to start seeing runners form on your plants within this window of time. After August, the plants start focusing on other things…. Below is a link to a chart of how many hours of daylight we get here in Pittsboro, NC throughout the year.

How should I fertilize my strawberries?

Strawberries appreciate a dose of compost and/or composted manure mixed into their bed before planting. Additionally, when incorporating any compost or aged manure, add 3-4# of 10-10-10 at the same time. If you want to use an organic fertilizer, we also carry Harmony (5-4-3) and 6-10# per 100 foot bed would do nicely. Amending upon planting so the berries have everything they need from the get-go is the best strategy and from there, the berries will do the rest!

Planting Strawberries: Planning and Management

As with most crops, how you plant them depends on how you intend to manage them. Generally, you should allow at least 12” between/around each plant. If you plant closer than 12”, the plants will crowd each other for sunlight and air flow which will negatively impact fruit production. The bigger question is: Are you going to treat the strawberries as annuals or perennials? You can see by the ‘To Do’ list below, that treating strawberries as perennials creates more of a work load than treating them as annuals; choose your own adventure.

Growing Strawberries as ANNUALS:

You’ll plant in September and yank them out in June of the following year after they’re done with berry production. Done. Put the space into cover crop or prepare for your next crop.

  • Spacing Between Plants in-row: 12”
  • Spacing Between Rows in a bed: 12”
  • Stagger rows to achieve better plant spacing and air flow

Growing Strawberries as PERENNIALS:

You’ll plant in September, harvest the following June then RENOVATE several months later in September for the next year of production. The sooner you can get to this task, the better; the plants you select for the next year will benefit from having their neighboring competitors evicted and freeing up all soil, light, and water resources for themselves!

  • Spacing Between Plant in-row: 12” – 16”
  • Spacing Between Rows in a bed: 12” – 16”
  • Stagger rows like above for initial planting
  • TO RENOVATE: (you may use a roto-tiller for some of the broad strokes)

Let the strawberries finish up with their runnering for the season, then get in there! This could happen throughout the fall, but the sooner you clean up the space, the more time the remaining plants will have to get established for the next year of production.
Be ruthless; prepare to remove a lot of plants. Mother plants can produce 10-20 daughters per plant, so you’ll probably be removing about 8-16 runners for every runner you keep.

  • Remove… any plants that are in your aisles or on the shoulders of beds.
  • Remove… all plants that are in the centers of the beds.
  • Remove… all of the weakest &/or smallest runners.
  • Remove… any plants that appear to be diseased.

Do you have any left? You certainly will! Of the remaining plants, choose the healthiest, largest plants in a 12” x 12” grid (minimum spacing_ a little more space is ok, too) and remove all other plants that are outside of that grid.

How should I plant my strawberries?

Strawberry leaves, flowers and roots grow from a crown that should be located at soil level. If you plant too deep, you’ll smother the crown, exposing it to wet and humid conditions that will encourage rot. If you plant too shallow, you’ll expose the crown and roots to extreme cold in the winter and excessive drying in the spring and summer; both could kill the plant. The ideal plant depth is to have the crown level with the soil. Be sure to firmly compress the soil when planting so that the soil doesn’t bury the plants after your water them. Avoid applying mulch right up next to the crown for the same reason.

What can I expect from each variety?

  • Chandler – MID-SEASON – Top seller with u-pick growers; fast growing plant with high yield. Berries have good color & flavor, medium to large size, medium firmness and a classic shape.
  • Sweet Charlie – EARLY-SEASON – Plants are vigorous and bear fruit 7-10 days earlier than Chandler. Berries are very sweet, firm & large. Easier to harvest because of large fruit size. Resistant to Crown Rot & Powdery Mildew; Susceptible to Leaf Blight.
  • Camarosa – Plants have excellent early, mid, and late season production. Fruit is large, conical-shaped, and sweet with a longer shelf life. Good for fresh eating or processing.
  • Festival – Plants have excellent early, mid, and late season production. This berry is firm, mostly large, conical-shaped, and excellent in maintaining attractiveness and flavor during and after long shipments. Most common strawberry grown in GA and FL.

Should I plant strawberries on flat ground or in raised beds?

Your soil type and your planting site will make some of these decisions for you. Recommendations will vary based on the geographical location from which the recommendation is based, so always use your own judgment and knowledge of your own farm/garden to make the best decision for your plot.

CLAY soils will hold water very well, and in the winter and early spring, maybe too well. Water-logging and lack of drainage during this time of year in clay soils can be very problematic and lead to plant damage, disease and decay. In CLAY soils, it’s recommended to plant in raised beds that are between 6”-12” above your aisles to provide adequate drainage and to increase soil-warming in the spring. The convenience of harvesting out of a raised bed is not to be underestimated, either.

SANDY soils will drain very well & it may be difficult to keep your plants sufficiently hydrated in the spring when the plant’s water demands are highest. In this situation, it may be wise to plant directly into flat ground or only very shallow rows (less than 6” high) to best conserve your water.

Can I keep my strawberries for propagation stock from year to year?

Theoretically, sure; realistically, it’s not recommended… Here’s why…

Since strawberries are perennials, the potential to keep them from year to year is there. The reality of growing strawberries, however, is they are very susceptible to a host of diseases that can accumulate within the strawberry plant or within the soil over time. Since all plants of a specific variety are genetically identical, that means all plants are equally susceptible to the same diseases and once a disease is present, all plants are at risk of becoming infected. Once a plant is infected with a disease, it does not recover and if it is not removed and destroyed, it has the potential to spread the disease to other plants through various channels including soil, water or insect feeding.

Diseases will make themselves known in various ways. Some diseases will be dramatic and cause plant decay and death; other diseases will be visible as spots on the leaves; others may not be showy but rather manifest in gradual plant decline, lack of vigor and reduction in fruit production from year to year. Beyond effecting fruit production, some diseases are soil-borne and have the potential to remain in the soil for 10+ years which means you would not be able to grow strawberries in that space for at least that much time (worst-case scenario). For these reasons, it is recommended to purchase disease-free plants every year (or two) to ensure that plants are healthy, vigorous, disease cycles are being broken and to allow you to rotate your plants to different areas of your garden/farm and NOT transmit diseases or pests through infected plant material or soil.

Secondly, WHY do you want to keep your strawberries for more than a season? If you don’t’ want to maintain the strawberry patch through the summer, DON’T! Summer is the hottest, busiest, weediest time of year in the garden so get those tired strawberry plants out of there! The space can be sown with a cover crop instead that will compete with weeds and require less of your time and attention.

Why do we plant strawberries in the fall?

Strawberries are quite possibly the only fruit that can be treated as an annual and produce fruit in under a year if you understand its physiology. Strawberries are day-length sensitive and behave differently in each season based on how many hours of sunlight they receive. When days are long, more than 13.5 hours, strawberries invest their energy into producing runners or daughters; this is their summer time activity. As days grow shorter in the late summer and fall, less than 13.5 hours of day light, strawberries shift gears and focus on root development and producing floral initials, or the primordial flower buds that will emerge next spring. You cannot see that the plant is doing this, but if you wait too late to plant in the fall or plant in the spring, you’ll notice a dramatic reduction in fruit production due to the plant’s inability to perform this function to its fullest potential. Planting in the month of September will allow the plants to get established and set their next-season’s fruit before winter shuts things down for the year.

What yield can I expect?

A very general expectation is 1# of fruit per plant per season. Various factors, that you may or may not be able to control, can increase or decrease this yield.

These factors include:

  • Soil pH and available nutrients – Test garden soil regularly/annually to make sure you’re where you need to be for the crops you’re growing. Get soil test boxes and sample forms from your local Cooperative Extension office; send samples to the soil test lab’s physical address in Raleigh and you should have a report in 2-4 weeks. Soil testing is FREE April-November; $4.00 per sample December-March. We can help you interpret your results at Country Farm & Home if you need a hand deciphering the report.
  • Soil health – Always give back to your soils by adding regular and varied sources of ORGANIC MATTER. These infusions will keep your microbial populations healthy, active and supplied with food which, in turn, ensure that the mineral nutrients that you add or that are already in the soil will be metabolized so your plants will have access to all they need.
  • Water management – Too much or too little at critical points in the growing season
  • Temperature – Some years are better than others….
  • Late frosts – OPEN BLOSSOMS are the most vulnerable to frosts and freezes. Plants can tolerate the cold but the blossoms cannot. If a late frost is expected, consider covering plants with old sheets or row coverto prevent fruit damage/loss. Sometimes, this cannot be avoided and you will generally not lose all your fruit, just the ones that are blooming that night…
  • Pests – Deer, birds, rabbits, slugs etc. are all fans of strawberries. Plan accordingly.

How should I mulch my strawberries?

Regardless of your planting strategy, you’ll want a layer of mulch (organic, fabric or plastic) for the active harvest season to keep the berries clean, dry and off the ground. Mulching Strawberries upon plant installation is highly recommended to control weeds, conserve soil moisture and so it’s in place when you need it as the plants and berries grow throughout the season.

Mulch Options:

  • STRAW!! No folks, Straw-Berry is not just a clever name. Back in the day, especially in Northern growing regions before the dawn of Industrial Agriculture, strawberries were over-wintered with a thick protective layer of straw over-top of the plants to carry them through winter. In the spring, the straw was raked away from the plants to become their mulch for the growing and harvest season. This is still a great strategy for growing strawberries today. In the Southeast, avoid mulching too heavily; our winters can be quite warm and strawberries don’t need quite as much protection as northern-grown berries. 2”-4” of loose straw should do the trick. Rake mulch away from plants in March when they wake up and start growing to provide a nest for the berries that are on the way.
  • Leaf Mulch – Freshly fallen leaves like Pin Oak that are slender, small and stack well to form a thick layer of mulch are great. Otherwise, leaves make great mulch if they have been composted or run through a chipper/shredder to reduce their size. Fresh leaves are okay, but tend to be too fluffy right off the tree to give you a lasting layer of mulch that won’t blow away in the winter. If you do choose leaves, consider putting down a layer or two of newsprint to add another layer of weed suppression. Over-head watering of your mulched berries will help settle everything in and ‘glue’ it in place and is recommended. DO NOT use Black Walnut Leaves (or BW wood chips)! They will inhibit the growth of most garden plants.
  • Bark Mulch – If you have a source of well-degraded (at least a year), finely-textured bark mulch, this could be a good mulch for strawberries. It’s recommended to lay a layer or two of newsprint down and then cover with mulch to create the best weed barrier. Do not use fresh wood chips; they will rob the plants of nitrogen as they break down.
  • Landscape Fabric/Ground Cover, woven – Many small-scale growers favor black woven landscape fabric for growing strawberries; with a tool like this, you can literally roll out your mulch onto a prepared bed (with drip tape in place) and plant directly into the fabric.

Order of Operations with this method:

  1. Fully prepare strawberry bed INCLUDING soil amendment & incorporation, final bed-building/raking, (OPTIONAL) dig trench in aisles with which to bury the edges of the landscape fabric to hold it in place, lay drip tape (if you will not be hand-watering plants).
  2. In another unplanted, flat area like a lawn or empty bed next to the berry patch, roll out the landscape fabric and tack down with rocks or landscape pins. Use a propane hand torch to burn your planting holes into the fabric at your preferred spacing. Start by holding the torch at least 24” above where you want the planting hole, and gradually lower the torch to the fabric until you see the fabric start to curl and melt. Use a circular motion to achieve a round hole without warping the fabric (you’ll get the hang of it quickly). Singe the ends of the fabric to prevent fraying over time. Another way to make your planting holes is to cut holes with a utility knife; you can expect the fabric to fray with this method. Roll up your fabric and take it to the strawberry bed(s).
  3. Unroll your fabric and EITHER use soil to cover the edges to secure the fabric in place OR use landscape pins/staples along the edges of the fabric to hold it down. If you use soil, cover the entire perimeter of fabric on all sides with a couple inches of soil. If you use landscape staples, use a staple every 8’ or so around the entire perimeter to hold it in place.
  4. Now you’re ready to plant! Drop your plugs next to the holes you cut/burned and plant as you would if the fabric was not there. After you set each plant, pull the drip tape close to the plug to ensure it will be watered well going forward. After planting the whole bed, turn on the drip tape and water in well.
  • Plastic – Pick-your-own operations in NC nearly all use black plastic for strawberry production. Typically, this production method requires a special mulch laying implement that can build the bed, lay the drip tape, roll out the plastic and bury the edges of the plastic all in one pass. Plastic is single-use and needs to be disposed of at the end of the season. For these reasons, smaller growers and home gardeners generally do not use plastic.

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