Deciding the Optimal Time to Remove Straw Mulch from Strawberry Plants

Strawberries are a beloved crop for home gardeners and commercial growers alike. The sweet, juicy berries are a taste of summer To get a bountiful strawberry harvest, plants must be properly cared for year-round An important task is determining the right time to remove straw mulch from strawberry plants each spring.

Why Strawberries Are Mulched

Straw mulch serves vital protective purposes over the winter:

  • Insulates plants from extreme cold and frost heave.

  • Prevents loss of soil moisture through evaporation

  • Minimizes weed competition.

  • Keeps berries clean by preventing soil contact,

  • Reduces rot by inhibiting soil splash onto plants.

Leaving straw in place as long as possible in spring maintains these benefits. However, delaying removal too long can negatively impact plants and yields.

Identifying When to Take Straw Off Plants

The ideal time to remove straw mulch from strawberries depends on several factors:

  • Leaf growth under straw
  • Soil temperature
  • Weather forecast
  • Plant variety

Balancing these variables minimizes risk of cold damage while allowing plants to thrive once growing.

Checking for Leaf Growth

The most reliable indicator that straw should be removed is new foliage emerging under the mulch. Start checking in early April by pulling back straw in several areas. Look for leaves unfurling from crowns. These may appear yellow or pale if deprived of light. Once growth initiates, take straw off promptly. Prolonged burial stresses plants.

Soil Temperature

Soil should warm to at least 40°F at a 2-4 inch depth before exposing plants. This signals air temperatures are sufficient for active strawberry growth. Obtaining accurate soil temps aids optimal timing.

Weather Forecast

Review weather forecasts when plant growth first appears. If freezing temperatures are predicted, delay removing straw a few days to shield plants. But don’t leave it on long once growth resumes.

Plant Variety

Early fruiting strawberry varieties initiate growth and flowers sooner. Check these first and remove their straw promptly when leaves emerge. Later fruiting varieties may safely stay mulched longer.

Knowing your specific plants helps refine removal decisions. Monitor each variety separately.

Step-by-Step Process for Removing Straw

Follow these steps to properly take off strawberry mulch:

  • In early April, check under straw daily in several spots seeking new leaves.

  • Once multiple areas show green growth, plan straw removal within 2-3 days.

  • If frost is forecast, delay removal briefly until safer temps return.

  • On removal day, rake or pull straw gently off plants and into aisles.

  • Take care not to damage tender emerging foliage and flowers.

  • Leave a thin 1 inch layer of straw under plants to suppress weeds.

  • Scout for pests like tarnished plant bug that hide in mulch.

  • Water and fertilize plants to energize growth after exposure.

  • Watch the forecast and be ready to re-cover for cold snaps.

Consequences of Removing Straw Too Early

Premature straw removal increases risks of:

  • Frost damage to emerging flowers and leaves leading to lost yields.

  • Cold injury to shallow strawberry roots.

  • Loss of moisture and winter survival benefits of insulation.

  • Exposure to late snow or extreme cold.

  • Frost heaving of plants from thawed, refrozen soils.

To avoid these problems, delay taking off straw until multiple signs indicate plants are truly growing.

Impacts of Removing Straw Too Late

Issues arising from excessively late straw removal include:

  • Planted buried too long causes yellowed, elongated foliage.

  • Delayed onset of flowering and fruit production.

  • Reduced yields due to stunted early season growth.

  • Increased disease risk from poor air circulation and light penetration.

  • Invitation for insect pests and rodents to invade mulch.

  • Difficulty determining if plants survived winter.

  • Loss of fruit quality from soil splashing up on berries.

Leaving straw past initial leaf emergence stresses plants and limits yields.

Straw Removal for Cold Climates

In regions with extended winters, straw removal timing is especially challenging. Here are tips:

  • Check soil temps daily starting in early April. Wait for consistent 40°F or above readings before exposing plants.

  • Make sure straw is pulled off within 1-2 days once leaves emerge to prevent elongated growth.

  • Be prepared to re-cover plants anytime cold temperatures return. Have row cover fabric handy.

  • Selecting cold hardy strawberry varieties improves survival and fruiting.

  • Trying growing under tunnels to regulate exposure to elements.

Knowing your environment’s nuances helps make the right straw removal decision.

Signs Straw Was Left on Too Long

How do you know if straw mulch was removed too late? Watch for:

  • Pale yellow leaves instead of lush green foliage.

  • Leaves excessively elongated and spindly from reaching for light.

  • Reduced number and size of flowers.

  • Delayed onset of ripening compared to expected schedule.

  • Small or misshapen early berries.

  • Increased disease issues on foliage and fruit.

These signs indicate plants were stressed by late exposure. Yields often suffer as a result.

Protecting Strawberries After Straw Removal

Once straw is pulled off, plants are vulnerable to swings in temperature and moisture. Use these methods to shield them:

  • Be prepared to cover plants with fabric row covers if frost threatens. Leave covers in place until temperatures warm.

  • Maintain a straw buffer zone around plants to conserve soil moisture and block weeds.

  • Irrigate regularly if rainfall is lacking, avoiding overhead watering that spreads diseases.

  • Apply a balanced fertilizer to energize plant growth and fruit production.

  • Monitor for pests like tarnished plant bug that inhabit mulch debris.

Proper protection after removing straw ensures plants start fruiting on schedule.

Achieving a Bountiful Strawberry Harvest

Determining the ideal moment to remove protective winter straw from your strawberry planting is key to success. Leaving it on too long stresses plants and reduces yields. Pulling it off too early risks frost damage. Carefully balance growth signs, soil temps, weather forecasts, and plant varieties to expose them at just the right time. With appropriate spring and frost protection, your strawberries will reward you with a plentiful harvest of juicy, sweet berries.

When to Remove Straw from Strawberries in 2020

Photo: A strawberry field at Rods Berry Farm, Cambridge, MN, in summer 2019. Annie Klodd
  • Strawberry leaf growth under the straw
  • Soil temperature and moisture
  • The weather forecast
  • This year, our spring has started relatively early. Therefore, straw removal will likely occur relatively early as well. It will most certainly be earlier than last year (2019), when we still had plenty of snow on the ground at this point in the season. Here are some guidelines for deciding when to remove straw:

Check for strawberry leaf growth under the strawGo to your strawberry field every couple of days, and check for the beginnings of leaf growth under the straw. Do this by pulling away the straw on a few feet of row, at 6-12 places around your field. Avoid using the field edges, because the plants on the edges tend to start growing sooner than the rest. Check the early fruiting varieties first, as they will likely push leaves earlier than later fruiting varieties. The new leaves may be yellow, but if you see them starting to emerge from the crowns, this is one sign that it is time to start removing straw.

Despite our best efforts to remove straw at the correct time, the risk always remains that we will have a late frost event weeks after straw removal, which injures the blossoms and reduces yield. This risk is generally higher in seasons where growing degree days start accumulating earlier in the spring, like this year. Growers should always be prepared for this possibility, especially as our climate changes and spring temperatures become less predictable. Two common strategies for frost injury mitigation on strawberries include:

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Removing Straw in the Strawberry Patch


When should I take the straw off of my strawberry plants?

Remove the straw in late March, or as soon as the snow melts, leaving the row covers in place. Row covers can also be applied only in the early spring. Mulch should be applied as usual in the fall, but removed early in the spring (in late March or early April) and followed immediately by applying the row covers.

Should you cover strawberries with straw in the winter?

Strawberry plants need to experience a little cold before being covered with straw. Covering strawberry plants with straw in the winter helps to protect your crowns from the elements. Uncover plants when temperatures warm, so plants are not growing under straw.

When to uncover strawberries in Indiana?

After plants become dormant in fall (generally in late November to mid December), apply a 2-inch layer of straw, hay, chopped corncobsor bark chips. When new growth begins the following spring, rake off most of the mulch, and spread it between the rows to help conserve moisture and prevent weed growth.

When to remove straw from strawberries in Kansas?

So, the straw is used to moderate the temperatures, not to keep the plants warmer. What you’ll want to wait for is a soil temperature at about 40 degrees. There has been research done that shows that is the correct time to take it off. If you wait too long, the plants will have reduced yield this next spring.

When should you remove straw from strawberries?

Remove straw from strawberries when they first begin growing in the spring. Delaying mulch removal too long will delay harvest and decrease yield. However, removing it too early increases the risk of spring frost damage. Time straw removal based on: Strawberry leaf growth under the straw.

How do you get rid of strawberry legs?

Strawberry legs is not a medical term. It refers to the appearance of raised dark spots on the legs that could be caused by inflamed hair follicles, ingrown hairs or a skin condition known as keratosis pilaris (a buildup of keratin that blocks hair follicles and cause rough and bumpy skin). People who shave their legs regularly are more likely to have skin changes resembling the surface of a strawberry. To help improve the appearance of your legs: • Shave in one direction with a moisturizing cream • Use products to exfoliate your skin • Keep skin moisturized

Is it time to remove straw?

If you have not removed straw yet, there is a good chance that it is time, especially if you farm in the southern half of Minnesota. Delaying mulch removal too much leads to delayed harvest and decreased yield. However, removal timing should also be balanced with the weather if possible, to minimize risk of late spring frost damage.

When should you remove straw from Strawberry Fields in Minnesota?

Delaying mulch removal too much leads to delayed harvest and decreased yield. However, removal timing must also be balanced with the weather, to minimize risk of late spring frost damage. Each spring is so different in Minnesota, that it is challenging to figure out the ideal time to remove straw from strawberry fields.

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