When to mulch strawberries?

Are you using the best mulch for strawberries?

Without a doubt strawberries are a very easy fruit to grow. However, there are some things you can do to ensure maximum output and have healthy plants.

One of those things is proper mulch care. Mulching is essential for healthy strawberry plants.

For that reason, we are going to look at some reasons why mulching is important particularly with strawberries and a few of our favorite kinds of mulch.

So, let’s get started….

Table of Contents

What is the best mulch for strawberries?

The quick answer is there are many different things you could use as mulch for your strawberries, for example, you could use straw, grass clippings, river stones, pea gravel, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, seaweed, wood ashes, and sawdust.

Below we are going to take a more in-depth look at some of our favorite options on the market, but here is a quick preview of our top 3.

  • Pine needles
  • Wheat Straw
  • Black plastic “mulch”

Why is mulch important?

Strawberries are the most popular small fruit grown in home gardens across the United States. They are relatively easy to grow and can fit within a small space or can be grown in large garden beds.

Strawberries also grow well in containers making them ideal for growing on apartment balconies, patios, or porches.

They thrive in areas with full sun, good soil drainage, and acidic to neutral soils.

After planting strawberries it is really important to mulch the exposed soil surrounding the plants.

Mulching is an excellent tool in the garden or landscape to help preserve water in the soil and decreasing water consumption overall, regulate soil temperatures, inhibit weed growth, cut down on erosion, and help to minimize soil compaction.

Mulch is also beneficial to strawberries as it gives ripe berries a clean place to rest besides directly on the soil and helps to keep rainwater from splashing mud/debris up onto the fruit.

Over time as the mulch breaks down, it improves the soil structure by adding necessary organic material and plant essential nutrients both of which contribute immensely to better plant growth.

Organic matter improves water holding capacity and helps to “hold” nutrients in the soil until the plants can use them.

Common materials for mulch include straw, grass clippings, river stones, pea gravel, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, seaweed, wood ashes, and sawdust.

Some of the best choices come right from the garden and lawn itself but different plants prefer different materials.

If you have a large garden area, the cost of buying mulch will add up, so it’s more beneficial if you can utilize material you already have available from the yard/garden.

No matter if you purchase mulch or use something on hand you will see definitive benefits in the plants grown and their harvestable outputs when you cover the exposed soil.

There are many different options to consider when choosing what material to use to mulch between strawberry plants.

The three most recommended mulches for use with strawberries are pine needles, straw and black plastic.

The greatest thing about these options is even if you don’t have access to them in your local area, you can purchase them online and have them shipped to your home for your gardening needs.

Let’s take a look at these options

My Top 3 Picks

Pine needles are the best option for mulching strawberry plants in a garden.

They are inexpensive, lightweight and will weave themselves together to form a protective mat over the soil surface.

Pine needles are especially beneficial as mulch in areas of high rainfall or hillsides because they don’t wash away as easily as other materials.

For the best results, add 2 – 3” of pine needle mulch between plants a couple of weeks after planting.

A good reference is to add the material about the time strawberry plants blossom. In the winter time, you can increase the amount to 3 – 4” for extra insulation from the cold, helping plants to overwinter with minimal damage or loss.

Pine needles also have a couple of other benefits that make them more attractive for use compared to other materials. As they decompose they acidify the soil slightly, which is preferable for the strawberry plants.

The pine needles are also a natural deterrent for slugs and snails because of their sharp, pointy ends and prickly nature.

Straw bales can be purchased, broken up and strewn about to mulch strawberry plants during the growing season, as well as over the winter.

Straw makes good mulch because it’s clean, lightweight and breaks down easily to add organic matter to the soil. The best types of straw to use for mulch are oat, wheat and/or soybean; avoid hay straw since it contains weed seeds.

It’s counterintuitive to adding mulch in your garden to prevent weed germination if you choose a product that has extra weed seeds in it.

A layer of straw spread 1 – 2” deep around the plants will help to inhibit weed growth when the strawberries are growing, regulate soil temperatures, minimize soil erosion, and keep dirt off the fruit.

Add straw to bring the mulch depth to 3 – 5” to protect plants from the cold during the winter.

Check the mulch layer every 6 weeks or so during the growing season, and add extra as needed.

Straw’s quick ability to breakdown is beneficial to adding organic material to the soil but it also necessitates the homeowner periodically placing more mulch down between plants to compensate for the decomposition.

Learn more about the benifits of using straw and how to do it in the following video:

Black plastic “mulch” is used as ground cover mulch by many commercial strawberry growers and has its advantages over natural, biodegradable materials.

It is inexpensive and easy to use; you can lay the plastic sheeting down on the bare soil surface and then plant strawberry plants through it at the desired plant spacing.

During the growing season, it will keep weeds from germinating and will increase the ambient soil temperature encouraging better strawberry growth.

The black plastic mulch will also help to reduce nitrogen leaching from the soil during the offseason by minimizing the amount of water that moves through the soil profile.

The best part is that since the black plastic doesn’t decompose like the other commonly used natural materials, it can be reused for more than one season.

FAQ Section About Mulching Strawberries

Do Strawberries Die Off In The Winter? No, strawberries do not die in the winter. Rather they simply enter a dormant stage. That is why it is so important that you mulch your strawberries before the cold months come.

Do I need to cover my strawberries in the winter? Yes, you need to cover your strawberries during the winter. Strawberries are very sensitive to the cold. Too much expose and they can die. For that reason, just before it gets too cold be sure to cover your berries with a nice protective layer of mulch.

When should you mulch strawberries? You should mulch your strawberries when the temperature of the soil drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit 3 days in a row. This is a sure sign that cold days are yet to come and you better cover your plants.

When should I remove the mulch from my strawberries? You should remove the mulch from your strawberries when you see a quarter of the plants in the patch starting to grow. That is a good sign that it is time to get rid of that protective layer of mulch.

Many gardeners will cover their strawberries with a winter mulch to protect them during those cold winter months.

However, the challenge is knowing when to remove the mulch. If you remove it too soon, the plants can start to grow only to be harmed by a late frost. If you wait too long you could stunt their growth.

For that reason, I think it is best to wait until about a quarter of the crop is coming back, then start to remove the mulch.

If you are using something like straw or pine needles you can simply rake them away from the plant, but don’t clean up the mulch just yet. If a late frost comes through you can rake the mulch back over the plants to protect them.

Final Thoughts…

Strawberry plants make a great addition to the home garden for many reasons.

Their easy to grow nature and ability to perform well in containers have contributed to them being the most popular small fruit grown in home gardens. They grow best in sites that receive full sun during the day, have well-drained soil, and slightly acidic to neutral soil conditions.

Adding mulch around/between strawberry plants provides many benefits to the garden, and helps to minimize inputs needed by the homeowner.

Mulch will help to minimize plant competition for water/nutrients/sunlight from weeds, increase the ambient soil temperature, and help retain soil moisture.

All of these benefits will help to result in better plant growth and more abundant fruit production.

Many different materials can effectively be used to mulch around strawberries but the most commonly recommended are pine needles, straw, and black plastic sheeting. Choose one that best fits your gardening style for the best results!

Now it is your turn, please tell us in the comments sections below what you have used and what you think is the best mulch for strawberries.

Yard and Garden: Properly Mulch Strawberries for Winter

While winter is not growing season for strawberries, taking care of strawberry plants remains vitally important. Before winter arrives, mulch strawberries to protect them, so they’re ready to grow in the spring.

Here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists on the ins and outs about mulching strawberries for winter. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or [email protected]

Should strawberries be mulched in fall?

Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Low temperatures and repeated freezing and thawing of the soil through the winter months are the main threats to strawberry plants. Temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit may kill flower buds and damage the roots and crowns of unmulched plants. Repeated freezing and thawing of the soil can heave plants out of the ground, severely damaging or destroying the plants.

When should I mulch my strawberries?

Allow the strawberry plants to harden or acclimate to cool fall temperatures before mulching the planting. Applying mulch before the strawberry plants have properly hardened may make the plants more susceptible to winter injury. In northern Iowa, strawberries are normally mulched in early November. Gardeners in central and southern Iowa should mulch their strawberry plantings in mid-November and late November, respectively.

What materials are suitable for mulching strawberries?

Excellent mulching materials include clean, weed-free oat, wheat or soybean straw. Chopped cornstalks are another possibility. Apply approximately 3 to 5 inches of material. After settling, the mulch layer should be 2 to 4 inches thick.
In windy, exposed areas, straw mulches can be kept in place by laying wire or plastic fencing over the mulch. The fencing can be held in place with bricks or other heavy objects.

Are leaves a suitable mulch for strawberries?

Leaves are not a good winter mulch for strawberries. Leaves can mat together in layers, trapping air and creating space for ice to form. The leaf, air and ice layers do not provide adequate protection. A leaf mulch may damage plants due to excess moisture trapped under the matted leaves.

When should I remove the mulch on my strawberries?

To reduce the chances of crop damage from a late frost or freeze, leave the mulch on as long as possible. Removing the mulch in March may encourage the plants to bloom before the danger of frost is past. A temperature of 32 F or lower may severely damage or destroy open flowers. Since the first flowers produce the largest berries, a late spring frost or freeze can drastically reduce yields.

To determine when to remove the mulch, periodically examine the strawberry plants in spring. Remove the mulch from the strawberry plants when approximately 25 percent of the plants are producing new growth. New growth will be white or yellow in color. (If possible, the winter mulch should remain on strawberries until mid-April in central Iowa. The average date of the last 32 F temperature in spring occurs in late April in central Iowa.) When removing the mulch, rake the material to the aisles between rows or an area next to the planting. If there is a threat of a frost or freeze later in the season during bloom, lightly rake the mulch over the strawberry plants.

From planting to picking, strawberries are the fastest fruit you can grow. If you started a new bed last autumn, it should crop well this summer, but it’s not too late to put in pot-grown plants this spring, as soon as they appear on sale. To extend the picking season to its maximum, grow one row each of early, mid-season and late- cropping varieties. The same strawberry plants will fruit for four seasons before they need replacing.

Planting

Strawberries need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation. Prepare the soil well; fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart, with a path two to three feet wide between rows to allow easy access for cultivation and picking.

Spring care

March marks the start of the growing season, so now’s the time to weed strawberry beds carefully and repeat regularly (weeds encourage pests and disease, as well as competing for moisture and nutrients). Avoid dislodging the plants, as they are shallow-rooted.

In late March or early April, sprinkle one ounce of sulphate of potash along each yard/metre of the row, applying it carefully to one side of the plants (should any get on to the leaves, wash it off to avoid scorching). If it doesn’t rain soon afterwards, water or hoe this in, and if there is a dry spell when the plants come into flower in late spring/early summer, water well so they don’t suffer a check in growth, which will reduce your crop.

After flowering

As soon as the flowers finish, the first tiny green strawberry fruitlets start “setting”. Weed thoroughly, then sprinkle organic slug pellets or set up slug traps between the plants. Next, spread a thin layer of straw (teased out from a bale and shaken loose) all round the plants and over the paths between rows. Alternatively, lay strawberry mats carefully around each plant. The aim of this is to lift the fruit off damp ground and to stop soil splashing on to the ripening fruit – which encourages rotting – so lift up foliage and developing fruitlets, and tuck the straw or mats carefully underneath.

Continue removing any weeds that manage to appear through this mulch. Lay any early-developing runners along the rows so they don’t obscure the paths through the crop.

Avoid watering after flowering if possible, since damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it first thing in the morning so that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.

As soon as fruits start swelling, cover the beds with netting, raised up on wire hoops and well pegged down round the sides, to protect the crop from birds – don’t wait until berries start ripening.

Q: Should I Mulch Strawberry Plants?

Kim Ruby asked:

Hello – I live in North Central Florida. My growing season is different than the northern climates. My strawberry season is ended by June. This past year I planted 40 Sweet Charlie bare root plants in November and they are doing great. I have been pinching the berries this year giving the plant a chance to establish. Should I use straw mulch to protect my strawberry plants from the summer heat? If not, what do you suggest? Thank You.

Answer to: Should I Mulch Strawberry Plants in the Summer?

Kim Ruby,
Strawberries are temperate beauties. They thrive in countries all over the world, including many chilly ones. Since they do so well where winter temperatures get cold, people have adapted techniques to harness the most vitality from their plants. Famously, that involves mulching them over the winter to protect them from cold injury.

But, straw mulch serves several significant purposes when it comes to growing strawberries during the summer in temperate regions or during the cooler seasons in hotter climates.

First, insulation is just as important during the summer as it is during the winter. Keeping the roots of the strawberry plants cool is important to maintaining healthy plants. Loose clean straw is an ideal insulator as it allows good air flow and shields the soil/roots from the direct heating rays of the sun.

Second, mulching with straw during the summer keeps your strawberries clean! Instead of resting upon muddy dirt, your berries stay much cleaner and have a barrier between themselves and soil-borne contaminants. Often, they can simply be rinsed briefly to wash away any debris instead of really needing a deep clean.

Third, straw mulch or pine needle mulch works to protect your plants and berries from a host of common pathogens, especially fungi. When it rains, the little droplets of water reach significant speeds as they hurtle from laden clouds above. When those liquified missiles repeatedly plummet into pools of muddy or standing water, that dirty water is splashed up onto the vegetation of your plants. That process has transmitted enough pathogens to kill many a gardener’s entire strawberry patch.

So, yes, mulching strawberry plants in the summer is a good idea. mulching insulates from freezing temperatures (for northern climes) in the winter, but it also insulates and allows for cooler air flow to keep the roots from overheating in the summer (for southern climes), protects, and keeps strawberries clean (all climes). So, yes, go ahead and mulch with clean straw this summer. Good luck!

When to remove straw mulch in strawberries

A frequent question asked by strawberry growers in spring relates to the timing of straw mulch removal in matted row strawberry culture. Straw is often used to prevent winter injury in strawberry beds. With our unusually late spring this year, it is particularly hard to determine the exact timing of this important cultural practice.

The best method Michigan State University Extension recommends in determining the proper timing for mulch removal is to look for the beginning of leaf growth under the mulch. Strawberry growers will need to inspect their fields several times a week at this time in the annual spring green up period. Randomly pick a half dozen spots in your earliest variety and earliest site and gently pull the straw off of a section of row a few feet long. If you see newly emerging leaves – they may be a yellow color – that are beginning to emerge from the crown of the plant, generally that is telling you that the strawberries are ready to begin growth for the season and that straw needs to be removed. You can then recover these short sections of row.

Again, concentrating on the earlier fruiting strawberries is usually a technique that will help to pinpoint timing of straw removal. Move into the patch to do this sampling and avoid the temptation to look only at the ends of rows – the berries are always earlier than the rest of the planting.

The condition of your soil also is a factor in determining when to remove the straw mulch. If you are on heavy soil and your soil has not dried yet, either wait for a cold morning when there is a crust on the soil surface to reduce soil compaction or simply wait a few days for your soil to dry out more.

Lastly, before you remove straw, check the weather forecast. If cold weather is predicted, you should consider delaying a few days.

The typical time for removing straw in Michigan is mid- to late March for the lower half of the Lower Peninsula, mid- to late March for the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, and most likely early April in the Upper Peninsula. Strawberries growing close to Lake Michigan may also be uncovered a bit later than inland sites. However, the proper timing of straw removal varies greatly from year-to-year.

The earlier you remove the straw mulch, the earlier fruit will mature. Early growth may also necessitate more frost protection. For early springs like 2012, growers may consider delaying straw removal in order to delay harvest. Then again, in late springs like we are experiencing this 2014 season, there is also a danger of leaving straw on too long. A study was conducted a number of years ago in New England where straw was removed periodically over a six week period. The highest yields came from plants that were uncovered earliest in spring as was practical, following either snow melt or ability to move straw removal equipment through the field without creating ruts. The later the straw was removed, the more yield was reduced.

I also suggest that a light layer of straw be left on the plants. This layer would be about an inch thick. Leaves and flowers can grow up through this thin layer of straw. Many times this will help reduce disease problems later in the season and will also help prevent some weed seeds from germinating if bare soil is exposed to sunlight. Lastly, mulch removal just prior to a rain event helps the plants respond well and keeps the mulch in place.

Mulching strawberry plants is a necessary step in the care of perennial strawberry care. For gardeners using the matted row system to produce strawberries, part of the process of growing strawberries involves strawberry renovation and preparation for overwintering strawberry plants. In milder temperate climates, minimal mulching is required as strawberries can withstand nominal freezing temperatures without much difficulty. However, if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the crowns will often sustain damage and fail to bloom the following spring.

One of the simplest and most common methods of protecting the strawberry crowns is to use a thick layer of straw mulch to cover and protect the vulnerable crowns during the cold of winter. It is relative easy to apply and serves several beneficial functions for your plants.

Benefits of Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter

As already mentioned, the primary benefit obtained by straw mulching your strawberry bed is the prevention of cold injury. However, simple temperature control is not the only benefit of using a straw mulch (or other mulch). Mulching appropriately also prevents frost heaving of the crowns. Additionally, the moisture content of the dormant plants is better maintained by preventing the winter winds from desiccating. And, perhaps most importantly, mulching helps reduce the risk of your plants developing black root rot. Black root rot is more common in plants that have developed susceptibility to it because of cold injury.

How to Mulch Strawberry Plants with Straw

In order to ensure that your plants are adequately protected, follow these steps:

1. Obtain clean straw. Oat, rye, or wheat straw are the best mulching straw types because it isn’t heavy, is loose, and won’t smother the plants. Leaves will form a dense, smothering layer, and hay usually contains a host of weed and grass seeds that will germinate in warmer weather and will compete with or choke out your strawberries. Using straw also reduces the chance of inoculating your bed with insect pests or other pathogens. One bale of straw will typically cover about 30 feet of 4-foot-wide matted row.

2. Choose the appropriate time to apply the straw mulch. The straw should not be applied until the strawberry plants have gone dormant for the winter. Otherwise, the plants might be smothered. Strawberry plants typically go dormant when the temperatures have dropped into the mid-20° F range for 3-4 consecutive days. Plants can usually be identified as dormant by the older leaves, which will turn brown first. The younger leaves will turn from a bright green to a dull green or gray color. It is best not to wait until the ground is completely frozen.

3. Apply the straw mulch to the strawberry plants. Once the plants are dormant, apply the mulch! Break up the bale and then break the flakes completely. Apply loose straw to the row of strawberry plants 3 to 6 inches deep. It is also good to cover any exposed soil between rows or in the planting.

4. Remove the straw before springtime. It is important to remove the straw mulch from the plants prior to them beginning to grow. Gently rake most of the straw off the plants and into the rows as soon as the top 2-4 inches of soil have warmed to 4o degrees. Leave a thin layer of straw over the plants. The plants will grow up through this thin covering, and it will also serve to keep the strawberries clean and minimize contact with the dirt beneath.

Mulching Strawberry Plants with Straw for Winter: Conclusion

If cared for appropriately, strawberry plants will produce well year after year. In fact, with effective transplanting, your strawberries can keep replenishing themselves for a lifetime! So, mulch appropriately. Straw is an excellent choice for mulching medium, although some people like to use newspaper.

So, plant to give a little tender loving care to you strawberry bed, and your strawberry plants will reward you with numerous harvests to come! Good luck!

Bob Morris Strawberries should be planted in mid-August, not in the spring. Strawberries will struggle when temperatures get hot after planting in the spring.

Q: You have converted me to the doctrine of using wood chip mulch. Is there any reason why I couldn’t use wood chips in my strawberry bed? My wife used to put strawberries in pots, and they never did well.

A: You can use wood chip mulch between strawberries. Apply compost right over the top of the wood chip mulch and water it into the soil when fertilizing. You will have to remove the mulch after two or three years when you pull out the old mature plants and replant with new ones.

Plant in mid-August, not in the spring. This is a mistake many people make. You may have trouble finding plants this time of the year, since most information is focused on spring planting. But strawberries will struggle when temperatures get hot after planting in the spring.

Improve the soil 50-50 with compost mixed with the existing soil before planting. I would include a starter fertilizer such as 0-45-0 mixed with that soil mix. A good quality compost can act as a fertilizer, so don’t be afraid to apply it every three to four months after planting.

Here’s where I differ from what you might read. Plant strawberry plants about 12 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart and remove runners when you see them. Some people also recommend removing the flowers as well. Planting in rows helps you find the berries later when the plants are full.

Plants should not crowd each other. You should see a slight separation between them for good production. Sunlight should hit the plant on all sides.

Select an everbearing type of strawberry rather than a main crop type. Main crop types produce berries only once a year. Older varieties of everbearing types like Fort Laramie, Quinault and Ogallala perform fine here during cool weather.

Everbearing types trickle their production throughout the year. This trickling makes them more productive here when the weather is favorable. They will produce fresh berries for two to three years before the plants need to be replaced.

Strawberries will not set fruit very well when the temperature is above 85 F. This makes summer fruit production difficult with June-bearing types of strawberries.

Keep plants alive during summer months until the cooler fall months return. Put them under 30 to 40 percent shade cloth draped on 3-foot-tall hoops during the summer months. Lay a frost cover over the top when temperatures are expected to freeze.

Water strawberries with in-line drip tubing running the entire length of the raised beds and spaced to 12 inches apart. Hand watering with the hose is very difficult. Keep soil moist but not wet to prevent root disease problems.

Q: When is the best time to stop cutting asparagus here in Las Vegas? I have a bumper crop this year.

A: There are a couple of ways to determine when to stop cutting asparagus. The first way is when the spears start to get thin. If you have thin spears, it is a sign the stored food in the roots is starting to get in short supply.

Stop harvesting. Let the tops grow until late December and then cut them to the ground; fertilize with compost to get ready for the next season’s production.

The second way is a calendar method. Cut for about two to three months in early spring, let the ferns grow and cut these ferns to the ground in late December. Fertilize with compost and start the cycle again.

By the way, remove the spears from below ground with an asparagus knife, not by snapping off the spears. An asparagus knife is like the old-fashioned, forked dandelion remover.

In a pinch, I use a long knife and push it into the ground, cutting the spear. Snapping the spears leaves a stubble on the soil surface that interferes with next year’s harvest and management.

Wash the spears and recut the spears to the proper length for cooking. Use the bottom parts of the spears, peeled, for asparagus soup.

Q: You posted a graph on your blog of inches of water that plants use each day during each month of the year. How many gallons is an inch of water?

A: I bet you want to know in minutes. That’s one problem when talking about irrigation. Irrigation clocks measure the volume of water in minutes. We apply water as a depth or in gallons, not minutes.

One inch of water applied to pure sand penetrates to a depth of about 20 inches — fine sand, 14 inches deep; fine sandy loam, 10 inches; silt loam, 7 inches; and clay loam, 6 inches.

The amount of water to apply is determined by the depth of its roots. The shallowest rooted plants are lawns, annual flowers and annual vegetables.

We assume the depth of their roots is less than a foot. The next deepest-rooted plants are 2- to 4-foot-tall perennials with a rooting depth of 12 to 18 inches. And finally, trees and large shrubs are the deepest with an effective route depth of about 24 inches.

Larger plants are given more water but watered less often because their “gas tank” (water held in the soil available to the roots) is much bigger. Plants that are shallow-rooted such as lawns, annual flowers and vegetables are watered more often because their gas tank is much smaller.

It is very important to group these categories of plants (lawns/flowers/vegetables, medium-sized plants, trees and large shrubs) on separate irrigation valves. In this way, they can be watered separately and at different times. Fourth and fifth categories, desert plants and cacti, could also be argued.

Q: I have four grapevine bushes. We had a freeze these past two years. Two of them are doing fine. However, two others have not produced new leaves since last year. Does that mean they are dead? How would I check if they are dead?

A: Some grapevines are more tender to winter freezing temperatures than others. Some of the European wine grapes, or those with wine grapes in their heritage, may possess less tolerance to freezing temperatures. We refer to these grapes as “vinifera” type grapes. Thompson seedless, for instance, and many California table grapes are in this category.

Most of these grapes will not tolerate temperatures much below 20 F. You can expect them to freeze to the ground, while hardier grapes may sail through the winter unharmed.

If you don’t live in wine grape-producing areas, I prefer to grow grapes on their own roots rather than grafted onto a rootstock. If they freeze to the ground, many of them will regrow from basal suckers. If they are grafted on a rootstock, then you might as well throw it out.

Cut the top of your grape back, close to the ground. Let it sucker from the base. Select the strongest sucker and re-tie it to a grape stake with nursery tape. Remove the other suckers.

If you push its growth hard with water and nitrogen fertilizer, you can re-establish it back on the trellis in one growing season. With some grapes, I have been able to regrow the vine on the trellis and have it set fruit during the first year of establishment.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert and professor emeritus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to [email protected]

Wood chip mulch in strawberry bed….

We love dogs, too; but will be the first to admit that living with them can be a challenge. When we saw your request for help, we felt obligated to offer our insight from 20 years of trial and error with yards and dogs and shade. When we got our first Jack Russell puppy, Billy, we fenced in the entire back yard for him. We wanted him to have the maximum of space for play. Of course, he was so small that he walked right through the gaps between the pickets. Until he topped 12 pounds we would not let him out of our sight for fear a hawk would get him. Later we came to wish we had fenced in a smaller area for the dogs and left space for a garden outside the fence; but it is as it is. Our main recommendation is that you take time to observe the dogs’ behavior. Where do they run? Where do they “go”? Where do they play? If they are laying down a “beaten path”, then you know exactly where to put your pavers and plan your beds. They are not likely to change their behavior, regardless of where you plant your grass. We have planted many things over the years in the back yard and almost none have survived. The few that are thriving are worthy of mention. 1. Silver-leafed Lamium . It is spreading and blooming in spite of the fact that the dogs trample it and use it as their potty area. This is a good thing as it is tall enough that there is no need for us to clean up in there. 2. Lirope. While most modern day landscapers are weary of this old-fashioned grass, it may be the perfect plant. It is an evergreen perennial grass with beautiful lavender blooms in summer that last about 8 weeks. It is a multipurpose shoe-string budget replacement for hard-scapeing. We used it as a rope border between the grass and our front flower bed. The elegant s-shaped line gives unity to our shallow but wide front yard year-round. In the back we made a circular bed around a favorite tree with variegated Lirope and filled the circle with Annabelle white hydrangeas. It is a lovely affect and would be more so if the dogs path did not go straight through it. Lirope is cheap. Each of your neighbors would be happy to share a few shovelfulls with you. One clump can be divided into dozens of sprigs to start a row. In 3 years you will have a lush dark green rope around each bed. It is low maintenance. Cut it down to the ground after a hard freeze. After it gets established, you can cut it back every January (or not) to keep it from getting too thick. It is always a joy to see the lime green leaves re-emerge about a month later. Best of all for you and for us is that it is dog-proof. Once it is established, it keeps dogs in their place, out of your flower bed, and it does not mind the occasional trample. One warning. There are two kinds of Lirope, one that spreads via rhizomes, and one that stays put in a row that gets thicker every year. Both kinds are available in variegated versions and both have their place in landscaping, but the spreading kind should not be allowed anywhere near a flower bed… ever. 3. Oak Leaf Hydrangea. These die back in the winter, but leave enough wood stalks above ground to keep the dogs far-enough away so that they can return in spring. They have beautiful leaves that turn red in the fall and delightful long-lasting white booms. 4. Japonica Kerria. After several years of false hope from plants labeled “partial sun,” we had to face up to the fact that our yard is shady. We had noticed a tall shrub in an even shadier area of a neighbor’s yard that seemed to be in bloom year round. The local nursery could not identify it, so we hired a horticulturist to tell us what it was. We could not find it in nurseries, so we asked the neighbor for a shovel full. He said, take all you want. He said that many years ago a landscaper advised him to put it in a low, wet area of his yard, where it has flourished like a weed ever since. It is similar to the Lady Banks Rose; it puts up long slender fronds that arch up and out and over its brothers in a wild unkempt manner, but it does not need a trellis. While the Lady Banks blooms profusely for only one month, the Kerria blooms less densely for the entire year. The blooms are exactly the color of an egg yolk and about the same size. Concept So, here’s a conceptual plan to consider: Assuming your dogs run along the fence as ours do, let the bed begin 3 or 4 feet in from the fence. You could put pine straw or bark back there if you want, or just leave it as is. Or better yet, start your own long, skinny yard-waste landfill. Allow them to trample away behind the bed. This will take a mental leap; but just allocate that part of real estate to them. Otherwise you will be frustrated and constantly at war with the ones that love you most. Don’t forget to leave space in the beds for the dogs to enter and exit their route. Define the “front” side of the bed (the side you will see from your patio) with a row of dark green Lirope, the stay-put kind. Plant it along a curved line for best aesthetics. It will reach a maximum height of one foot or less. Alternate Kierra and Oak Leaf Hydrangea plants 8-10 feet apart. Plant the Kierra, which will spread, toward the back and the hydrangeas a little forward. Lay down a soaker hose (never mind, I forget you are in Seattle). Infill the bed with sprigs of Lamium or some other hardy evergreen ground cover. Place Hostas in groups of three here and there. Chose Hostas that will be more than one foot in height so they can be seen over the Lirope. Circle the beds with a temporary fence, like a silt fence or chicken wire to keep the dogs out until the plants are established, at least one year, maybe two. All of these plants are easy to propagate on a shoestring if you want to take the time to do it yourself. Our Lamium-filled back yard began as one hanging basket. Otherwise, they are easily available on the Internet, if you can’t find a neighbor to give you sprigs for free. We recommend that you avoid grass all together. Mondo grass will not tolerate dogs. However, the creeping form of Lirope does make a nice infill, and it is grass. There is a white and green variegated Lirope that may work as a soft shaggy lawn. The more sun it gets, the whiter the blades. It is slow to get established, but once it does, it spreads via underground rhizomes. It is low growing so it will not need cutting unless it freezes. It would be pretty between terracotta pavers or under a garden bench. We don’t know how dog-tolerant it is. If your tight budget is matched with a strong back, then you can make your own pavers. There are lots of cool molds as well as dyes and stains available. Squares and rectangles are still in vogue. To cut down on the dirt “all over” your house, use baby gates to confine the canines to certain rooms. Place some kind of stone or paver path on their approach to your back door. There are door mats designed to remove dirt that you could place on the doorstep of the door and doggie door, maybe even inside and out. We keep a big stack of old machine washable cotton rugs that we put down on rainy days, especially when the grand-dogs come to visit. We advise that you avoid small bark chips or crushed granite, as they just leave a worse mess in the house than the mud. Please accept this with the gentle intent with which it was given. We are just passing on what we learned the hard way. Please be sure to post photos of the end result. Ray and Becky Thomson Roswell, Georgia zone 7A

How to Grow Strawberries

Last Updated: May 13, 2015 | by Mike McGroarty

Sweet, juicy strawberries are not only a sure sign that the summer growing season has arrived, but they are also a very popular fruit for growing in the home garden. Even folks who never grow any other crop often find the time and space to grow strawberries. Some forethought and preparation is necessary for a good crop, but once you learn the ropes you can also grow strawberries in your garden.

Before you can begin to grow strawberries, choose an appropriate location for your strawberry patch and prepare the soil. Strawberries will grow best in a well drained sandy loam soil that is slightly acidic. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.8 for best fruit production.

If you are not blessed with a sandy loam soil in your garden, consider building a raised bed where you can grow strawberries. The raised bed can be supported by a frame or can be created by simply mounding soil in rows. No matter how you decide to build a raised bed, it should be at least six to eight inches deep for your strawberries.


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To successfully grow strawberries, the planting soil should be high in organic matter. Amend the soil with plenty of compost before planting. Ideally, the strawberry bed should be prepared a year before the first strawberry plants are planted.

It is helpful to plant a cover crop of oats, buckwheat, sudan grass, rye or clover in the planting bed for a season prior to planting strawberries. These green manures are then tilled under just before the strawberries are planted. In addition to adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil, the cover crop will also crowd out most weeds in the bed.

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Grow strawberries in an area that will receive full sun. Strawberries will not produce well if the plants are shaded. If possible, avoid planting strawberries in a low-lying area that may be susceptible to late frosts and standing water.

Also avoid planting strawberries in an area of the garden where tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes or other strawberries have been grown within the previous two or three years. These plants are susceptible to some of the same soil-borne diseases that affect strawberries. Reduce the risk of disease by selecting a growing area that is free of possible disease contamination.

Once the bed is prepared to grow strawberries, a decision must be made about what type of strawberries to grow. There are three main types of strawberry plants: June-bearing, everbearing and day-neutral.

June-bearing strawberry plants produce one large crop of berries each year, typically in June to early July. June-bearing plants tend to grow the largest berries but are often the most likely to fall victim to soil-borne diseases. June-bearing strawberries are sometimes referred to as short-day strawberries. The plants are stimulated to produce flower buds during the shorter day lengths in early fall. June-bearing plants easily multiply from the runners they produce.

Everbearing strawberry plants will produce two crops annually, in the spring and the fall. Everbearing plants grow strawberries of a medium size for about three years, after which the fruit production declines and the plants need to be replaced. Most everbearing strawberry varieties do not send out runners that grow into new plants, or they send out very few runners compared to June-bearing and day-neutral varieties.

Day-neutral strawberry varieties will continue to produce fruit throughout the growing season as long as temperatures remain below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In warm, frost-free climates these berries can bear fruit throughout much of the year, and in cooler climates they will produce from late May until the first fall frost.

Day-neutral plants grow strawberries that are medium to large and tend to be more disease resistant than either June-bearing or everbearing plants. Day-neutral plants will produce some runners, although not as many as June-bearing varieties. Day-neutral varieties are also the best choice if you want to grow strawberries in containers.

It is helpful to try several varieties of strawberries to find the one or two that best suit your taste and your garden. A variety that performs well for your neighbor may not be the best for your own garden.

Once the bed has been prepared to grow strawberries and you have chosen and acquired your strawberry plants, it is time to plant them out. Each plant should be spaced 15 to 24 inches apart within the row. If the plants are being planted in the spring, give them 24 inches of space for growing throughout the season.

Strawberries that are planted in the late summer or fall can be spaced more closely together since they won’t have time to send out many runners. Each row of strawberry plants should be planted three to four feet apart to give you room to work between the rows.

Be careful to not plant the strawberry plants too deeply. The plants should be settled in with their crowns at the surface of the soil. The crown is the fleshy part of the plant where the leaves develop, just above the roots. If planted too shallowly, the roots will dry out, and if planted too deeply, the plants will not grow well.

If you want to grow strawberries in your garden, you must learn to be patient. To allow the plants to establish themselves so they can produce a bountiful crop, do not expect to harvest any berries the first season after planting strawberry plants.

During that first growing season, pinch off any flowers from the plants as soon as they appear. As you do this task, remind yourself that it will help ensure larger, more plentiful berries for the next year. Ideally, you can expect to harvest one to two quarts of berries from each plant.

If you grow strawberries that are June-bearing or day-neutral, the plants will produce runners. Runners grow into new “daughter” plants that blossom and grow strawberries the following growing season. Runners allow the gardener to continually renew the strawberry patch. Keep an eye on the development of runners and position them as they develop to achieve a density of five plants per square foot. Once this density has been reached, additional runners should be clipped off the mother plant.

Use these orphan runners to build a larger strawberry patch, or share them with your gardening friends who want to grow strawberries. Runners that grow early in the season can be allowed to root right in the garden, but runners that set in September or later will not have time to set fruit buds for the next season. These late daughter plants can be rooted in small pots right in the garden until they are ready to be transplanted to another spot or shared with friends.

Fertilize the strawberry patch at planting time and also monthly during the growing season. Organic growers may wish to fertilize with a side dressing of compost along with seaweed and fish emulsion. Non-organic growers should look for a garden fertilizer with an N-P-K rating of 12-12-12 to grow strawberries. Apply one pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer for each fifty feet of row. Be careful to not over-fertilize the strawberry plants and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much nitrogen will promote lush foliage at the expense of blossoms and fruit.

Once the plants begin producing ripe berries, the strawberry patch must be scouted regularly. Berries may need to be harvested as often as every other day during the peak of their season. Berries that have become overripe or rotten should also be removed from the plants to help avoid insect and disease problems. Berries that are left on the plant too long after they have ripened are susceptible to botrytis fruit rot.

Try to pick your strawberries with their little caps and stem still attached. This will help the berries store a bit longer in the refrigerator. Do not wash the ripe strawberries until just before they will be eaten or prepared for a dessert.

Once the strawberry plants have gone dormant for the winter, but before temperatures go below 20 degrees, a layer of straw mulch can be applied about two to four inches deep over the plants. Bark chips may also be used to mulch strawberries, but avoid using leaves or grass clippings as these materials tend to mat down too much and could smother the plants.

To protect the plants from the drying effects of cold winter winds, be sure to completely cover the crowns of the strawberry plants with mulch. Remove the mulch in the spring at the time when the first new leaves are beginning to develop on the strawberry plants. Rake off most of the mulch and leave it between the rows. This mulch will help to keep the fruit clean and less susceptible to fruit rot problems.

If you don’t have a lot of growing room, you may also grow strawberries in a container. Day-neutral varieties are best for container growing. Choose a container for your strawberries that has adequate drainage, and use a well-draining potting mix. A good mix for strawberries would be two parts good potting soil and one part compost. Keep plants two to four inches apart in the container and make sure the soil stays consistently moist but not soggy.

The strawberries that are sold in supermarkets have been bred for their ability to ship well over long distances. Commercial strawberries are also one of the most heavily sprayed food crops. If you grow strawberries in your own garden, you can control their growing conditions and ensure a tasty, healthy crop of strawberries for your table.

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