Strawing Strawberry Beds



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?


I like a light cover of straw on the ground around the plants as it helps to keep the next year’s berries a little cleaner. But also don’t like it when wheat starts taking over the strawberry bed! I’ve been using a light mulch of shredded leaves or grass lately and that works pretty well.

I’ve used the fall planted oats in my asparagus patch. Works great.

The only reason I mulch is to suppress early weeds in the strawberry patch. I like to get it done before Winter, so the loose mulch works its way into the ground before freezing weather arrives. In March I rake the top layer of mulch off, but leave a lot of the straw / hay for the plants to grow through. Seems to give the strawberry plants an advantage over encroaching grass and weeds.

I was always mulching with straw and the plants did well, but then over the past several years we’ve seen an increase in voles and boy, oh, boy, did the voles move into that straw and mow the strawberry plants down!
For now I’ve stopped winter mulching and the last two harvests have been fine. I do worry a bit more now about late frosts like the situation Terry mentioned, however.

Hi Gene. Always enjoy your posts. I’m a fellow old fart. Oddly, once I decided to stop trying, the berries took off. Straw would only harbor slugs. Aged sawdust in the rows don’t. I had quit tilling, and have plain raised beds without boards and such, just rows I pop up a bit with a fork once a year, the berries have wound their way thru things. The don’t get tilled under, and enjoy themselves whereever they land. The largest impediment I have found on my many years growing on this earth is…. (drum roll please), OVERTHINKING things. Be well and keep up the great work. I’m always lurking, tho I don’t often post. — Marsha

I add straw in the spring to keep the berries clean, otherwise they get plastered in mud. I also use straw to add to the soil fertility. Since I have never really been told when to straw up the plants or for what reason, I put it on when it is convenient. Our plants are quite prolific for about three years and then the number of berries drop, but since they are on a bid to take over the world with their runners, there is usually another bed ready and waiting for the following year. I like your idea, but I guess it doesn’t work quite as well with a raised bed that are narrow enough for me to weed from the path – only little you see! 😀 With something like our vigorous strawberries I think it is do what works best for me and they will produce anyway – as long as they miss the frosts. I suppose though, if I know there is a frost coming and they are in flower, I would cover them with a garden fleece.

Isn’t it funny how the longer you live, the less certain you become about the right way to do things?

Every garden season seems to disprove something I thought I knew and to teach me something all new. Trial and error. But if you think about it, we don’t get that many “tries” at it. If you, Gene for instance, had a garden every year since the day you were born (which isn’t possible), you would only have 80 chances! You can learn from others experience of course, unless as you point out there are so many different opinions. Then you’re back to trying it out for yourself!

Well Gene that an interesting idea with oats between the rows. I do cover my strawberries for the winter but don’t pay much attention to whether the ground is frozen. But sometime in October when it fits my schedule best. I only started doing this last year and glad I did. When the strawberries came up last year I was scared I put a little too much chicken litter in the patch upon planting. They were all legs and no blooms. But when blooms came we were dancing around the patch. Everyone else got hit by a late freeze and here we were with a huge crop comning. We estmated 80 qts. picked. So there may be some truth to the covering the plants and waiting as long as possible before removing it. I use old hay from neighbors as here in Iowa, straw is hard to come by and expensive. This does present some weed issues, but if I work at a little everyday along with family members who enjoy the harvest we seem to keep it under control. I have only purchased new pants once five years ago and keep a patch for two years of production. We just replant 1st runnners from the mother crown,We don’t selectively pinch off runner but mulch between the rows. The berries are definitely smaller, but no one seems to mind as they are sweet. They do take a little more work to process, but none us seem to keep enough in the freezer or jam canned to get through the next season.

I never straw my strawberries mainly because once I stop picking them in June, I stop thinking about them. Then Fall arrives and I think “I probably should straw my strawberries”.

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