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Cleaning Up Strawberries

“Hello Christy! Could you give me a bit more info on what is involved in “cleaning up” strawberry plants? Do you top them? Do you separate them?  How much do you cover them with compost?  One more question….do you recommend ordering blueberries, blackberries, and grapes from a catalog or buying them locally? thanks, Diedre”

All very good questions here.  Now before I answer, a disclaimer:  I may preach one thing, but do another, because I’m a gutless wonder in some regard. 

Some publications I’ve read tell us to mow down our strawberries with the lawnmower on a very high setting, or to “top them” as you said.  But the chicken in me has been too afraid to try that, fearing that the power of the mower will rip out all my organic strawberry crowns and turn them into mulch. That and the fact that I don’t own a mower has kept me from trying it.  What I did this year to clean up my strawberries was this:

  • Remove all the brown and yellowing leaves and stems.
  • Remove any runners, or “daughter” plants that look weak.
  • Find a good home for any runners, or “daughter” plants that look healthy, if you want to keep them.  You can space them 4 or 5 inches away from their parent plant, but keep the stem attached until they are well established.  Then you can cut the cord, so to speak.
  • Layer on 2 inches or so of compost, mixed with an all purpose vegetable fertilizer like Whitney Farms or Dr. Earth.  Cover just up to the crown.  In general you don’t want to bury the crown because strawberries are susceptible to rot.
  • If your soil level has dropped way down (if, for example, you are growing strawberries in a container), you can gently lift the plants, add more soil and then replant them again.  I have done this almost every year with some berries I have growing in a strawberry pot (those pots with holes on the sides) and I see the strawberries flourish afterward.

At present, the strawberries that I cleaned up using the method above are sending out flowers and new berries.  I was hoping for some new foliage growth first, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So there might be something to the theory of cutting off all the foliage at the crown.  I think I’m going to have to experiment with half a raised bed before long. 

To answer your blueberry question, I just ordered some blueberries, blackberries and raspberries for a client’s garden from Peaceful Valley Farms.  They offer organic bare-root varieties that are high quality plants.  As I write this (1-28-09) they recently sent out an e-mail offering a discount on their bare-root stock, so get ’em while you can. They also sell grapes.

Now I am recommending ordering them online only because I’ve seen some pretty shady stock available at stores recently.  If you can find really nice varieties that are good for your climate (make sure you do a little research on types that grow well in your area), then go for it.  The bare-root varieties that you can order by mail are very inexpensive, but you pay for it in shipping.  Still it works out to be about the same as buying nursery stock.

Thanks for writing in, and good luck with your garden!

If anyone has any great secrets about strawberry care that you’d like to share, post it here.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Christy Wilhelmi

    Question for you:  When mulching with straw, do you find sow bugs lurking and munching after awhile?  This was the case for me, so I stopped mulching my strawberries.

  2. Red Icculus

    I add a layer of compost and cover with straw for the entire outdoor season. The smaller fruits that I don’t pick are taken care of by the dogs, but it promotes huge plants without runners.

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