From GENE LOGSDON
Here in our neighborhood, we’ve been arguing about when, if ever, strawberry beds need to be winterized with a covering of straw. There are enough different answers to that question that I am beginning to wonder about traditional ways as much as I doubt modern ways in gardening and farming. Here are the answers I’ve gotten to the question: should you straw your strawberry patch over winter?
1. Momma always did it so that must be the right thing to do.
2. I don’t do it and I get just as many berries as Momma did.
3. The reason you do it is to keep the ground from freezing and thawing repeatedly in winter warm spells, which heaves the plants out of the ground.
4. No, you do it to delay spring growth of the plants so they don’t bloom too early and get killed by frost.
5. The trick is to wait until the ground does freeze and then lay down the straw. If you mulch before that, the ground may never freeze. You want the ground to freeze to kill pest bugs.
6. There’s nothing much else to do in the winter garden so why not apply the straw then. You have it handy there to put between the rows in spring. The real reason for the straw is to keep the berries clean and smother weeds.
7. Straw, especially if it is bright from not getting rained on before baling, is rich in potash, which makes strawberries grow better. That’s why they are called strawberries.
8. Oh baloney. You can use leaves or dried grass or anything that does not have weed seeds in it.
I have mulched with straw or leaves, mulched in late fall and after freeze, or not mulched at all and it seems to me that berry production is more a result of my age than anything else. I had a nicer looking patch when I was 40 than when I was 80. For awhile I thought that if I pruned runners assiduously, allowing only four or so to grow from each mother plant, spaced as far apart from each other as the runner stems would allow, that I got better production. But after I got too lazy to do that, there were more berries only they were not on average quite as large. I am not even too sure anymore that the berry patch needs to be moved to a new location every third year as I used to believe. Now I just allow the runners to grow only on one side of the old row and hoe out the old plants, so the patch moves slowly across the garden plot. Then I will let it move back across the other way.
My real conclusion after all these years is that if you keep the weeds at bay and good rains fall through the summer, you will get all the berries you really want to pick, no matter what other care you take or don’t take. The reason my berry patch is not as vigorous as it used to be, I think, is that we have had too many dry summers lately when the plants should be vigorously re-growing for the next year but aren’t. Or it might be the variety I am supposed to have. It is supposed to be the old Senator Dunlap variety, but when I bought some by that name from the same company a second time, they were not the same. The ones I like are very resistant to brown rot but don’t seem to runner vigorously, which might be a good thing for an old man. I have saved this variety, whatever it really is, and maybe that is my problem. I’ve been told that I should buy new plants to set out every year in a new location to get vigorous growth. I wonder.
I’ve read about an old way of strawing the strawberry patch that I bet would work quite well. After gently working the bare soil between the strawberry rows in summer, broadcast oats in August or whatever times is appropriate in your area so that when the oat stalks grows up, they are killed by frost before they head out and makeseed. The oat plants fall over in the winter to cover the ground just right. By spring they sink flat on the soil surface and in due time the berry plants grow up through them. Any of you tried that?