No, it's not quite time to put the strawberry patch to bed for the winter yet, but Katie (her blog is here) asked me a couple of days ago if I would go over how we prepare our strawberries for winter.
The first step toward happy, healthy strawberry plants for next year is a buzz cut. I know this isn't a highly recommended method you might read about, but it's worked really well for me.
Let me digress for a bit. Half of my berry patch (the whole patch is approximately 16' x 16' and contains around 130-140 plants) is going into its fifth year and the other half is going into its seventh year. These are the original mother plants I put in that many years ago. I always cut off any and all runners the main plant sends out. I know letting the runners grow and either going to a matted row system or transplanting the "babies" to another location is a way to expand and/or get "free" strawberry plants. However, I believe letting the mother plant send out runners weakens the main plant and causes it to produce fewer and smaller berries and have a shorter life span so you have to replace your plants sooner. Also, it's been my experience that plants propagated from runners are never as strong as a mother plant.
I was disappointed in my strawberry crop this year in that the berries were smaller than usual and the season was very short. At first I gave myself several hand slaps to the forehead thinking, "Well, you dummy, you pushed those wonderful, loyal plants too far. What do you expect from plants that old?" But then! I heard reports from the two pick-your-own strawberry farms not far from us in Canada. They had exactly the same kind of berry crop I did this year. Now I'm thinking it was our weird spring and summer weather so I'm going to give my plants another year to see what they do before pulling them out and starting a new bed.
But back to the hair cut. Every year, about two weeks after the plants stop bearing, my hubby takes the lawn mower and mows down every single plant being careful not to have the blades set so low that the actual crown of the plant is damaged. His mowing leaves about a 1" high stubble on the plants.
Then the plants have time to re-grow healthy, new foliage (the above picture is what they look like today) before frost hits and they start to die back.
After about the second hard frost we get, we cover the whole patch with either old hay or straw to a depth of about 12". The mulch will settle quite a bit so it's important to pile it on thickly. This mulch isn't so much to protect the plants from the cold as to keep them from partially thawing on bright, sunny winter days and then freezing over night. It's the continued thawing and freezing that will cause the plants to heave up out of the ground and eventually die.
Up here in northern Minnesota, spring takes its own sweet time in arriving so we wait until we're pretty sure we're past any hard freezes before we uncover the strawberry plants for their growing season. That date is usually sometime in May.
Hope some of this helps you, Katie. You're quite a bit south of us, more in a climate we were when we lived in Illinois, but I followed the same routine when we gardened there.
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