Hopefully, you had a chance to mulch your strawberry plantings before the early winter cold.
Mulch helps reduce the freezing and thawing of the soil that breaks off the small roots and in some cases can lift the plants partially out of the ground, translating into smaller berries and reduced yields.
Mulching also slows plant development in the spring which reduces the chances of frost injury to the flowers.
Mulch conserves moisture, keeping berries off the ground, which reduces rot development and keeps dirt off of the berries. It can also reduce weed development making harvest much nicer under wet conditions.
Wheat straw is the preferred mulch material, but oat and rye straw also work well. Try to acquire mulch that does not contain a lot of weed, wheat, oat or rye seeds as this can substantially increase weed control requirements in the spring. Apply the mulch when the night temperature is expected to reach about 20 degrees F which is usually sometime in mid-December in Kentucky, although this year the lower temperatures came earlier.
Cover the plants so you can still see a number of leaves peeking out from beneath the straw. Excessive mulch can smother plants.
When spring comes, don’t hurry mulch removal. The mulch will protect the strawberry fruit buds as long as it remains on the plant. Remove the mulch when the plants have begun to grow and the foliage looks slightly yellow. If the mulch is left on too long, it could substantially reduce your yield.
If you are a fruit or vegetable grower or are thinking about becoming one, the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference is held every January in Lexington, KY.
Topics include commercial fruit and vegetable production, farmers’ markets, organic farming and gardening, high tunnel production, direct marketing and home-based produce microprocessing.
Submitted by Dr. John Strang, Extension Fruit and Vegetable Specialist, University of Kentucky