Taking care of a Strawberry Patch

Techniques and timing for good strawberry care

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. I have a strawberry patch in my back yard that I planted three years ago. What can I do this fall to improve strawberry production next summer?

A. Mulching your strawberry patch for winter protection is the most valuable thing you can do now. Actually, it is important for you to wait until the ground freezes in late November or December. Then apply about four inches of weed-free straw to keep the soil frozen and to minimize the impact of alternate freezing and thawing through the winter. Be sure to shake out the flakes of straw thoroughly to avoid leaving thick clumps on the patch that can smother individual plants.  

Spring Work with Strawberries

Begin removing the mulch as temperatures warm in the spring. Pull it back gradually, starting in mid-March, once we get past the hardest freezes. It is best to have the mulch pulled back before there is too much leaf yellowing. Leave the straw in the walkways between the rows so that it can be used to pull up over the plants in case of a hard late frost, and also to use as a "bed" to hold the ripening strawberries up out of the soil.

Following the Strawberry Harvest

June-bearing strawberries - the ones that produce their crop in early summer and are the type most commonly grown - should be renovated immediately after next summer's harvest. It is too late to do so now because the plants would not have time to recover before winters' cold arrives. Even more important, strawberries set next season's flower buds in the fall. If you renovate now, you will damage too many of those buds and have a poor harvest next summer. Renovation involves thinning the bed, which invigorates the remaining plants and enables them to produce larger berries.


Renovation starts by getting weeds under control, generally by hand weeding in home gardens (this is something you can do now - removing weeds will not hurt your plants and will reduce competition for water and nutrients next year). Use a rototiller to narrow the rows down to about one foot wide, and thin the plants in the row so that there is a plant every three to four inches. Select vigorous runners or daughter plants to replace mother plants that are three to fours years old because they become less productive with age. Trim back the leaves, either by hand or by setting your lawn mower up as high as it will go and running it over the patch. Be sure it is high enough to avoid cutting into the crowns of the plants. Fertilize them with two-and-a-half pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row, and water if we are not receiving sufficient rainfall. Strawberries should have an inch of water weekly during the growing season. Organic gardeners can substitute Fertrell Super N (4-2-4) or Fertrell Super Plant Food (3-2-3) for the 10-10-10.


Day-neutral Strawberries

Day-neutral types of strawberries such as 'Tribute' or 'Tristar,' bear fruit throughout the growing season. They tend to have peaks of production in June, midsummer and again from late August until frost. They should not be renovated as described for the June-bearers, but the plants should be replaced every three years or so to keep them productive. Day neutral strawberries should also receive more regular applications of nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium nitrate (34-0-0). This makes sense since they produce their crop over a much longer period of time than the June-bearers.

Strawberry fertilization: One pound of ammonium nitrate per 100 feet of row once a month from June through September first is a standard recommendation. Organic gardeners can substitute blood meal for ammonium nitrate.


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