Mulching Strawberries

To insure a bountiful strawberry crop next year, home gardeners should mulch their strawberry plantings this fall. 

Cold winter 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 unmulched plants out of the ground, severely damaging or destroying the plants. 
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. 
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 placing wire or plastic fencing over the area.  The fencing can be held in place with bricks or other heavy objects. 
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 actually damage plants due to excess moisture trapped under the matted leaves.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on November 1, 2013. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.