Tips for Applying Mulch to Strawberry Plants

by Jenny Banks

As the spring weather starts to warm things up, it's time to start thinking about your garden. If you have strawberry plants or are planting some for the first time this year, you'll need to make sure that you have the right mulch for the base of the plants. Mulch is important for protecting the roots of strawberry plants throughout the season, but you need to be selective. Here's a look at what you should know about selecting and using mulch for strawberry plants.

Why is Mulch Important for Strawberries?

Strawberries are somewhat delicate and need to be protected from things like weeds and dry soil. Mulch keeps weeds from germinating and sprouting, which ensures that the nutrients in the soil are reserved for the strawberry plant itself. In addition, the mulch keeps the sun from drying the soil directly above the roots. That way, any water in the soil stays there for the plant to use. Also, when you use a natural mulch, the decomposition of that mulch material adds nutrients to the soil for the plants. The water and nutrients in the soil are vital for good fruit production.

What Kinds of Mulch are Good for Strawberries?

  • Plastic Sheeting - Many commercial strawberry-producing farms rely on plastic sheet mulch. The plastic used is typically resistant to ultraviolet light, creating a barrier that blocks the sun's rays from reaching the soil. This preserves the nitrogen present in the soil, keeps the soil temperature warm and prevents weeds from germinating.
  • Straw - If you're wintering your strawberry plants (leaving them in the ground through the winter), straw is a great mulch option. It insulates the soil, keeping the plants warmer through the cold winter. Cover the entire plant in several inches of straw for good insulation. Then, in the spring, an inch or two of straw around the base of a growing plant can protect it against sunlight and even keep the fruit free of dirt by creating a barrier against the soil underneath.
  • Pine Needles - Pine needles are good for properties where slugs are a problem. Things like plastic may permit moisture, which is ideal for slugs to thrive. Instead, pine needles form a dry environment that can be abrasive and uncomfortable for slugs. They are a great natural mulch product, especially because of their abundance in most areas. As they break down, they will add acidity to the soil, making them an ideal option for soil that is alkaline. A few inches of pine needles around the base of the plant should suffice through most of the growing season. If you're going to winter your plants, add a couple of extra inches of pine needles just before the cold weather sets in.

No matter which you choose, strawberries benefit greatly from the use of mulch in some form. Protect your plants with these tips and you'll be rewarded with increased, quality fruit production. For more tips on what mulch to use, consider contacting a local specialist, such as Mulch Masters.