Spring Mulch Management in Strawberries


Quite often, we like to plan our events based on a date on the calendar, but strawberries, like most plants, respond to the weather.  Once soil temperatures are consistently above 40°F, it’s a good time to check your strawberry beds to see if the plants are starting to grow. Check the current soil temperatures here

Etiolation is the term used when plant tissues grow in the absence of light.  Etiolated plant tissues are white or light yellow, stretchy, and can also be brittle (Figure 1).  Once strawberry plants lose dormancy and begin to grow, mulch should be removed to prevent etiolation. 

new spring growth with etiolation
Figure 1: Old and new strawberry foliage after mulch removal. Note the white or light-yellow color of the new etiolated shoots.

When perennial plants start to grow in the spring, that new growth is fueled by carbohydrates stored with the plant.  If those new shoots are not exposed to light soon, the plants will use up most of their carbohydrate reserves, and this will negatively impact growth.  Mulch on strawberry plantings should be removed once growth occurs, to prevent the new shoots from forming in the absence of light.  Severely etiolated plant tissues are also very sensitive to light and can be damaged when exposed to intense light on a warm day.

Even though it might seem early, check under your mulch and check the strawberry plants.  Taking off mulch too early can predispose the plants to cold temperatures, but leaving it on too long also has negative consequences.  It can be difficult to determine the stage of growth that strawberries are in, but if the flower buds are still within the crown, there is a good chance they can withstand temperatures as low as 20°F.  If the buds have emerged form the crown but are still tightly closed, they can often withstand temperatures close to 22°F. 

Floating row covers can be a great tool to help mitigate low temperature events for strawberry beds once the mulch has been removed.  These will provide a temperature buffer, but unlike straw mulch, they allow light into the plant.

Last reviewed:
March 2024