Compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 or

WINTER MULCH FOR STRAWBERRIES (adapted from Patrick Byers, Univ. Missouri)

The key to consistent strawberry production in cold climates is mulching. Research in Ohio and elsewhere has shown that the crowns of non-mulched strawberry plants can suffer damage after winter temperatures go below 12?F. Unprotected strawberry plants are also vulnerable to desiccation damage from drying winter winds. The disease black root rot is more severe in non-mulched plantings.

Winter mulch offers several benefits for a strawberry planting. The mulch protects plants from severe cold. Desiccation is a problem, especially after winter temperature fluctuations, and mulch will protect plants from drying out. Mulches will also protect plants from injury caused by soil heaving, which results from freezing/ thawing cycles during the winter.

Research from Illinois suggests that a good guide is to apply mulch after three consecutive days with a soil temperature of 40?F. This soil temperature usually occurs after several frosts, and the plants have slowed growth in response to cooler temperatures. Apply mulches before the soil freezes. In Vermont, mulches are usually applied in late November.

The type of production system used for strawberries can affect the need for mulching. Plants on raised beds, for example, are more vulnerable to cold injury than plants in level plantings. Annual production systems, such as fall planted plasticulture, may utilize less hardy or disease susceptible cultivars.

The traditional mulching material for strawberries is straw. Straws from rye, wheat, oats, or Sudan grass work well. A good straw source is clean, free from weed seed, and contains a minimum of grain seed. Strawberry growers can produce their own mulch, often cutting the straw before the grain seed is viable. Store straw for mulching in a dry area.

A traditional, level matted row planting will require 2.5 to 3 tons of straw per acre for a 2 to 3 inch deep mulch. This equates to about 300 small bales of average weight. Raised bed plantings may require twice this amount for adequate coverage. Smaller plantings may be mulched by hand. Larger plantings often use bale choppers to break up the straw bales and distribute the straw over the bed. Choppers are available for both small bales and large round bales. Plasticulture plantings of cultivars such as Chandler are usually not mulched with straw.

Recent research and growers' experiences demonstrate that the heavier weights of floating row covers are also useful for winter protection of strawberries. A widely available weight recommended for winter strawberry protection is 1.25 oz/sq yd. A variety of widths are available, ranging from 15 feet to 60 feet. This material costs about 4 cents per square foot. With proper care, heavier fabric should last 3 to 4 seasons. Floating row covers are widely used to protect annual plasticulture plantings.

Row covers are best applied on still days. Be sure to line up sufficient labor to place the row cover. If possible, use wider widths for more efficient application. The row cover edges must be anchored, as must areas where two covers overlap. Edges may be anchored with posts, rocks, or tube sand. The edges may also be covered with soil.

Once the mulch is in place, the job is not done for the winter. Monitor the planting frequently. If straw has blown off areas, replace at once. Watch the edges of row covers, and adjust anchors if needed. Repair any rips or holes as soon as possible. Maintain deer control to minimize damage to the row covers.


Dr. Gary Pavlis is the editor of the Rutgers Blueberry Bulletin, a weekly update for growers ( The October 2002 issue recommends application of 5 gal/acre of lime sulfur when 2/3 of the leaves have dropped in the fall for control of Phomposis, cane canker, etc. To deal with the corrosive nature of this material a grower in Massachusetts reports that he sprays his tractor and equipment with a light coating of ‘PAM’, a vegetable oil with lecithin. He uses 3 to 4 cans at a cost of $6 to $7, and this biodegradable coating makes it easy to wash of the lime sulfur after application. Other vegetable oils should work as well. Thorough pruning out of all small twiggy wood is also suggested to help minimize Phomopsis and other fungal diseases.


GSF is an educational, not-for-profit, informal association created in 1984 to promote the consumption and production of garlic as a profitable crop for small and family farms. Their new web site features many resources and much information for the garlic grower. You can subscribe to the GSF newsletter, see a listing of garlic festivals nationwide, buy garlic T-shirts, and read up on the science of flatulation (click on ‘tailwinds’) at


Starting next January a course called "Tilling the Soil of Opportunity" will provide new and experienced farmers with tools to organize, manage and market their agricultural businesses. During the course, participants will assess their resources, develop marketing strategies, understand financials, learn how and where to get funding for their businesses, and network with other agricultural entrepreneurs. The course will meet Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9:30 p.m., from January 8 through April 9. There will also be two day-long Saturday sessions. It will be held at the University of Vermont Extension office in Berlin, Vermont. Pre-registration is required as space is limited to 20. The fee is $250 per person ($25 for second person from same farm business) and includes all materials. Please register by December 15, 2002 by sending a check payable to “Vermont Food Venture Center,” to: Tilling the Soil, Vermont Food Venture Center, P.O. Box 138, Main Street, Fairfax, VT  05454. Questions about the course should be directed to Brian Norder at (802) 849-2000.


The New York State IPM program is offering a 3-day series of workshops in Geneva, NY on Jan. 14 (soil and nutrient management) Jan. 15 (weed management) and Jan.16, 2003, (insect and disease management). The program is intended for commercial vegetable growers who are currently growing organically as well as those contemplating organic vegetable production. A combination of university and farmer speakers will be featured. This series is sponsored by a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Education Program, so registration is only $10.00 per day. Overnight lodging costs in Geneva are reasonable. Attendance is limited to 75 people so register early. For more information and registration material contact: Abby Seaman at  315-787-2422 or


This two-day program at the Extension Conference Center in New Brunswick, NJ, will review greenhouse design parameters, including: (floor) heating, cooling, ventilation, glazing choices, supplemental lighting, carbon dioxide enrichment, irrigation systems, open-roof greenhouses, and environmental controls. A tour of research and commercial greenhouse facilities is included.  The instructor is Dr. Arend-Jan Both, originally of the Netherlands, received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1995. His research focused on environmental control for greenhouse hydroponic vegetable production. His up-to-the minute, in-depth knowledge of the greenhouse industry is sure to provide you with knowledge you can put to use immediately. Early Registration Fee $295.00 (by 12/13/2002)


Dec. 7            N. E. Vegetable and Berry Growers meeting, Westport MA. 508-378-2546

Dec. 10-12    Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Market Expo, Grand Rapids MI. 616-794-0467

Jan. 14-16      NJ Vegetable Meeting and Trade Show, Atlantic City. Phil Traino, 856-985-4382

Jan. 15           Greenhouse IPM workshop (see last issue) Burlington VT. 802-656-5440

Jan. 22-25      Ecological Farming Conference, Asilomar CA. 831-763-2111

Jan. 27-29      NY Direct Marketing Conference, Saratoga Springs. Diane Eggert, 315-475-1101

Jan. 29           NY Berry Growers Assn, Saratoga Springs. Jim Altemus, 585-657 5328

Jan. 29           VT Vegetable and Berry Growers Assn. farm show meeting, Barre VT

Feb. 10-13     NY Vegetable Conference, Syracuse NY. Jeff Kubecka, 315-687-5734

Feb. 11          VT Vegetable and Berry Growers Assn. annual meeting, Rutland VT

Feb. 15          NOFA-Vermont Winter conference. Info: 802-434-4122

Dec. 16-18    2003 New England Vegetable and Berry Conference, Manchester NH!