How to Take Care of Outdoor Strawberry Plants in the Winter

Jeanne Grunert
strawberry plants in mulch

Take time now to learn how to take care of strawberry plants in the wintertime outdoors for a bountiful crop next summer. Strawberries require winter protection, especially in areas where temperatures dip below 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Take Care of Strawberry Plants in the Wintertime Outdoors

There are three essential tasks important for how to take care of strawberry plants in the wintertime outdoors.

Thinning

Strawberries grow best when there's space between the plants. You should strive for approximately five plants per square foot, with more space given to plants that produce vigorous and plentiful runners. Examine the strawberry beds in the fall and decide which plants you can move or remove entirely. Look for vigorous growth near the crown or center of the plant. Any plants exhibiting crown rot, poor growth habits, or poor crown development should be removed. Transplant healthy plants to extend the existing strawberry bed or create new areas in the garden. You can also give some plants away to a grateful local gardener; you're sure to find takers for healthy strawberry plants!

Watering

Strawberries, like many fruit trees and plants, determine the quantity of fruit they will produce the following year based on fall weather the prior year. Abundant fall rainfall is essential to vigorous fruit production. If your area doesn't receive at least one to two inches of rainwater per week starting in late September or early October, supplement the rain with a good watering system. Gardening zones in the northern part of the United States may need to begin watering earlier.

Mulching

Strawberry plants can freeze and die if the temperatures dip below about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also sustain frost damage during prolonged cold spells. Winter care for strawberry plants must include mulch. Use any natural mulch such as pine needles, wood chips or straw. Shredded newspaper may also be used as mulch. Be sure to wait until winter has arrived before mulching the plants. The ground should be frozen with sustained daytime temperatures very cold and close to freezing. Covering strawberry plants too soon may result in rot. You want to cover them before the deep freeze but not during time periods when they may still be growing.

Other Ways to Protect Strawberry Plants

Some gardeners like to use row covers to protect strawberry plants, rather than mulch. A row cover is a plastic sheet draped over a frame. Row covers made from clear plastic should be used so light continues to filter through to the plant. Be sure to place a row cover over the plants when the weather turns cold, and remove it in early spring. If it's left on too long and then removed, the plants may be used to the warmer microclimate underneath the cover and experience shock when it's removed.

Strawberry Plants for the Home Garden

Luckily, strawberries are actually quite hardy plants, and many survive very well through a moderate winter. The harsher your winter climate, the more attention strawberry plants require.

If, despite your care and attention, the plants fail to produce fruit next spring, consider whether or not you should replace the plants altogether. Some varieties of strawberries produce fruit for only a few years before they need to be replaced.

For more information on growing and caring for strawberries, please see:

How to Take Care of Outdoor Strawberry Plants in the Winter