Are you using the best mulch for strawberries?
Without a doubt strawberries are a very easy fruit to grow. However, there are some things you can do to ensure maximum output and have healthy plants.
One of those things is proper mulch care. Mulching is essential for healthy strawberry plants.
For that reason, we are going to look at some reasons why mulching is important particularly with strawberries and a few of our favorite kinds of mulch.
So, let’s get started….
What is the best mulch for strawberries?
The quick answer is there are many different things you could use as mulch for your strawberries, for example, you could use straw, grass clippings, river stones, pea gravel, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, seaweed, wood ashes, and sawdust.
Below we are going to take a more in-depth look at some of our favorite options on the market, but here is a quick preview of our top 3.
- Pine needles
- Wheat Straw
- Black plastic “mulch”
Why is mulch important?
Strawberries are the most popular small fruit grown in home gardens across the United States. They are relatively easy to grow and can fit within a small space or can be grown in large garden beds.
Strawberries also grow well in containers making them ideal for growing on apartment balconies, patios, or porches.
They thrive in areas with full sun, good soil drainage, and acidic to neutral soils.
After planting strawberries it is really important to mulch the exposed soil surrounding the plants.
Mulching is an excellent tool in the garden or landscape to help preserve water in the soil and decreasing water consumption overall, regulate soil temperatures, inhibit weed growth, cut down on erosion, and help to minimize soil compaction.
Mulch is also beneficial to strawberries as it gives ripe berries a clean place to rest besides directly on the soil and helps to keep rainwater from splashing mud/debris up onto the fruit.
Over time as the mulch breaks down, it improves the soil structure by adding necessary organic material and plant essential nutrients both of which contribute immensely to better plant growth.
Organic matter improves water holding capacity and helps to “hold” nutrients in the soil until the plants can use them.
Common materials for mulch include straw, grass clippings, river stones, pea gravel, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, seaweed, wood ashes, and sawdust.
Some of the best choices come right from the garden and lawn itself but different plants prefer different materials.
If you have a large garden area, the cost of buying mulch will add up, so it’s more beneficial if you can utilize material you already have available from the yard/garden.
No matter if you purchase mulch or use something on hand you will see definitive benefits in the plants grown and their harvestable outputs when you cover the exposed soil.
There are many different options to consider when choosing what material to use to mulch between strawberry plants.
The three most recommended mulches for use with strawberries are pine needles, straw and black plastic.
The greatest thing about these options is even if you don’t have access to them in your local area, you can purchase them online and have them shipped to your home for your gardening needs.
Let’s take a look at these options
My Top 3 Picks
Pine needles are the best option for mulching strawberry plants in a garden.
They are inexpensive, lightweight and will weave themselves together to form a protective mat over the soil surface.
Pine needles are especially beneficial as mulch in areas of high rainfall or hillsides because they don’t wash away as easily as other materials.
For the best results, add 2 – 3” of pine needle mulch between plants a couple of weeks after planting.
A good reference is to add the material about the time strawberry plants blossom. In the winter time, you can increase the amount to 3 – 4” for extra insulation from the cold, helping plants to overwinter with minimal damage or loss.
Pine needles also have a couple of other benefits that make them more attractive for use compared to other materials. As they decompose they acidify the soil slightly, which is preferable for the strawberry plants.
The pine needles are also a natural deterrent for slugs and snails because of their sharp, pointy ends and prickly nature.
Straw bales can be purchased, broken up and strewn about to mulch strawberry plants during the growing season, as well as over the winter.
Straw makes good mulch because it’s clean, lightweight and breaks down easily to add organic matter to the soil. The best types of straw to use for mulch are oat, wheat and/or soybean; avoid hay straw since it contains weed seeds.
It’s counterintuitive to adding mulch in your garden to prevent weed germination if you choose a product that has extra weed seeds in it.
A layer of straw spread 1 – 2” deep around the plants will help to inhibit weed growth when the strawberries are growing, regulate soil temperatures, minimize soil erosion, and keep dirt off the fruit.
Add straw to bring the mulch depth to 3 – 5” to protect plants from the cold during the winter.
Check the mulch layer every 6 weeks or so during the growing season, and add extra as needed.
Straw’s quick ability to breakdown is beneficial to adding organic material to the soil but it also necessitates the homeowner periodically placing more mulch down between plants to compensate for the decomposition.
Learn more about the benifits of using straw and how to do it in the following video:
Black plastic “mulch” is used as ground cover mulch by many commercial strawberry growers and has its advantages over natural, biodegradable materials.
It is inexpensive and easy to use; you can lay the plastic sheeting down on the bare soil surface and then plant strawberry plants through it at the desired plant spacing.
During the growing season, it will keep weeds from germinating and will increase the ambient soil temperature encouraging better strawberry growth.
The black plastic mulch will also help to reduce nitrogen leaching from the soil during the offseason by minimizing the amount of water that moves through the soil profile.
The best part is that since the black plastic doesn’t decompose like the other commonly used natural materials, it can be reused for more than one season.
FAQ Section About Mulching Strawberries
Do Strawberries Die Off In The Winter? No, strawberries do not die in the winter. Rather they simply enter a dormant stage. That is why it is so important that you mulch your strawberries before the cold months come.
Do I need to cover my strawberries in the winter? Yes, you need to cover your strawberries during the winter. Strawberries are very sensitive to the cold. Too much expose and they can die. For that reason, just before it gets too cold be sure to cover your berries with a nice protective layer of mulch.
When should you mulch strawberries? You should mulch your strawberries when the temperature of the soil drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit 3 days in a row. This is a sure sign that cold days are yet to come and you better cover your plants.
When should I remove the mulch from my strawberries? You should remove the mulch from your strawberries when you see a quarter of the plants in the patch starting to grow. That is a good sign that it is time to get rid of that protective layer of mulch.
Many gardeners will cover their strawberries with a winter mulch to protect them during those cold winter months.
However, the challenge is knowing when to remove the mulch. If you remove it too soon, the plants can start to grow only to be harmed by a late frost. If you wait too long you could stunt their growth.
For that reason, I think it is best to wait until about a quarter of the crop is coming back, then start to remove the mulch.
If you are using something like straw or pine needles you can simply rake them away from the plant, but don’t clean up the mulch just yet. If a late frost comes through you can rake the mulch back over the plants to protect them.
Strawberry plants make a great addition to the home garden for many reasons.
Their easy to grow nature and ability to perform well in containers have contributed to them being the most popular small fruit grown in home gardens. They grow best in sites that receive full sun during the day, have well-drained soil, and slightly acidic to neutral soil conditions.
Adding mulch around/between strawberry plants provides many benefits to the garden, and helps to minimize inputs needed by the homeowner.
Mulch will help to minimize plant competition for water/nutrients/sunlight from weeds, increase the ambient soil temperature, and help retain soil moisture.
All of these benefits will help to result in better plant growth and more abundant fruit production.
Many different materials can effectively be used to mulch around strawberries but the most commonly recommended are pine needles, straw, and black plastic sheeting. Choose one that best fits your gardening style for the best results!
Now it is your turn, please tell us in the comments sections below what you have used and what you think is the best mulch for strawberries.