Each spring can be very different, and with weather and temperatures being increasingly erratic and unpredictable, there is just no way to give a specific date for removing the straw mulch you put on your strawberries for winter protection.
The goal is to leave the mulch on the plants as long as possible to lower the risk of crop damage by the return of cold temperatures, while not waiting so long that plants begin to grow under the straw. We recommend checking under your straw once soil temperatures reach 40°F. You also want to consider the weather forecast when removing the straw mulch. It is best to check multiple locations towards the middle of your patch where the straw is thickest. Note: be careful not to leave the straw on too long, as this can harm the plants.
When you see new foliage growth, the plants are responding to warmer temperatures and the straw can be removed, however, it may be left on if freezing temperatures are in the forecast. If the foliage appears yellow-white, this is because the plants are trying to grow in the absence of sunlight and the straw should come off immediately to expose the plants to sun and allow air circulation. Be mindful of your extended forecast and be prepared with frost protection, like a floating row cover.
Early removal of straw mulch can allow earlier fruit development, but early growth will also require more attention to temperature and frost protection because flower buds lose hardiness as they develop. You’ll need to set up protection for your plants when temperatures drop.
One option for this is to rake the straw between rows or off to the side (depending on the number of plants you have) so that if there is threat of frost, you can easily rake it back over the strawberry plants. You could also employ a row cover, or frost blankets. For larger growers, overhead irrigation can be a good option for frost protection.
Early ripening varieties flower early. The earliest blossoms develop the largest berries if not damaged by cold temperatures.
While it is important to remove the straw over the plants, allowing for light penetration and air circulation, it is also important to maintain straw coverage on the row/beneath the plants/surrounding the plants. Leaving a straw layer beneath the plants serves multiple purposes, water retention, weed suppression, keeping roots cooler in the summer. Straw mulch also helps to keep your berries clean by preventing soil contact. It can also prevent fungus and other pathogens from splashing up onto your plants and strawberries when it rains or if you use overhead irrigation. Note: Irrigation at ground level is a healthier option for strawberry plants than overhead irrigation.
We created this handy little reference chart to help you recognize the difference between frosts and freezes.
Remember, Nourse Farms is here for you every step of the way. If you have any questions about straw removal, just give us a call at 413-665-2658 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.