My order of 50 bareroot strawberry plants will arrive at the end of April. The supplier recommends mixing 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer into the soil. Can you suggest an organic alternative? I have some horse manure, but it doesn’t appear to be fully rotted to use at this time.
Strawberries grow best where the soil is fertile, well-drained, and amply enriched with organic matter. If you have been using compost, organic mulches, and cover crops in your garden for several years, you may need to do nothing further before planting the strawberries. A soil test will give you an accurate reading of how fertile your soil is.
If your soil falls short of the ideal, I recommend you dig in some organic amendments before you plant. Composted horse or steer manure is excellent for this purpose; it’s sufficiently composted when it looks and smells like soil. Yard-waste compost is another good source of nutrients and organic matter. Sphagnum peat moss as a soil amendment adds organic matter but little in the way of nutrients. Ideally, you should prepare the soil a few weeks before planting the strawberries.
Water thoroughly after planting, then give each plant one cup of a half-strength fish emulsion solution or compost tea to jump-start growth. Follow up 3 weeks later with another application if growth is slow.
Let your supply of fresh horse manure decompose longer before using it. You can layer it with leaves, kitchen scraps, and other garden debris to make compost, if you wish, or simply let it age in a pile. Next spring, use it to top-dress the strawberry bed when the plants begin to bloom. —Doug Hall
As a new gardener, I’m not sure what I need to do to get my strawberry bed ready for winter. Do strawberries need protection?
A layer of loose mulch over the crowns of strawberry plants in winter shelters them from temperature fluctuations and keeps them dormant until spring arrives. Mulch also conserves soil moisture for these shallow-rooted plants. The only regions where winter mulch might not be needed are places with dependable, winter-long snow cover and, at the other extreme, places where the temperature never falls below 20°F.
Straw is the obvious choice for mulching a strawberry bed, but other lightweight mulches like pine needles and evergreen boughs also work. Don’t use mulches that become soggy and heavy—leaves, for example.
Allow your strawberries to go dormant before applying mulch. Applied too early in fall, the mulch can delay dormancy and become a haven for rodents. Wait until a hard freeze—between 20°F and 25°F—has flattened the leaves, then scatter 2 to 5 inches of mulch over the entire strawberry bed.
As growth resumes in early spring, rake the mulch into the pathways between beds—but keep it handy in case it’s needed to protect from late frosts. —Doug Hall