There’s no doubt that it’s hard to beat being able harvest plump red strawberries from your garden or raised bed year after year, but is there a way to save and overwinter potted strawberry plants for future years as well?
Thankfully, you’re in luck! Not only is it possible to save your potted strawberry plants over long, cold winters, but it’s easier than you might think.
Fresh homegrown strawberries produce a flavor profile that is much sweeter and flavorful than store-bought berries. But not everyone has the space or yard to dedicate to a large strawberry patch or even a small raised bed.
That’s where pots and containers come into play. Not only are potted strawberry plants easy to plant and grow, but they are often healthier. They tend to suffer less from pests, insects, and disease than in-ground plants.
Read on to find out how you can make sure your potted strawberry plants survive the winters and continue to produce years of delicious berries.
A Quick Background About Strawberry Plants
Strawberries are one of the easiest perennial plants to care for. With just a single planting, they can produce fruit for multiple years to come.
After mature plants are done fruiting, they produce small plant clones in the form of runners. These runners can then be detached and transplanted to create brand-new plants. If left on the plant, they can naturally attach to the soil to expand your already established strawberry patch.
There are two main types of strawberries: June Bearing and Everbearing. June bearing strawberries produce buds in the fall. These buds then turn into fruit the following spring – usually around June, hence their name.
Everbearing fruit produces buds in the summer that ripen in the fall and again in the fall that ripens the following spring. You can usually get two harvests from everbearing varieties.
Without a bit of assistance when it comes to winter protection, both varieties and their autumn-formed buds can easily become damaged or even killed by hard frosts and freezes. This is especially true for USDA Growing Zones 5 and further North. So you need to take steps in order to care for them – whether they are potted or not.
Should You Prune To Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants?
While pruning strawberry plants is a great way to tidy up and re-energize plants, it is best to avoid doing it during the fall. Just like some bushes and shrubs, you can actually cause more damage than good when you do a fall pruning.
As mentioned above, strawberry plants have already started to create their buds during the fall months. To prune plants so late in the season will eliminate all of their new growth. This causes a reduction in fruit when spring rolls around.
In addition, pruning plants in the fall will leave the plants even more exposed to harsh winter conditions. This will likely leave your plants vulnerable and at a higher chance of being killed by inclement weather, especially for potted plants.
So no, strawberry plants should not be pruned during the fall as part of a winterizing process. Instead, be sure to prune right as soon as plants have finished producing fruit in early or late summer. This timing will depend on the variety. You can remove any already dead foliage, however.
How To Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants
In order to keep your strawberry plants happy and healthy, you do still need to take a few simple steps this fall. These tips are focused on plants that have been grown in pots and containers. For specific information about winterizing in-ground plants, check out “How To Prepare And Protect Your Strawberry Plants For Winter.”
When plants are not grown directly in the soil, their foliage and roots are more exposed to colder temperatures. That cold air can just circulate around thin containers, threatening the health of delicate roots.
The following tips will allow the potted plants to stay cool enough to go into dormancy and gear up for a fruitful spring growing season. But, it will also keep plants from getting so cold that the roots and foliage die off completely.
Burying Plants In The Ground – Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants
One of the best ways to protect potted strawberry plants is to bury your potted plants directly into the ground.
This allows the ground to do the bulk of the winter protection for you. It’s also a great option for people who have already cleared out their summer garden or raised beds and have all that extra open space.
You can actually leave the strawberries in their pot and literally “plant” them into the ground – container and all. This works best with plastic containers as opposed to clay or terra cotta. These types might crack and break during hard freezes or when the ground freezes and thaws repeatedly.
To plant their containers, simply dig a hole that is about an inch wider and deeper than your container. Place the strawberries and their container in the ground. Keep the top of the pot level with the top of the soil. Fill any gaps around the container with soil.
Another alternative is to transfer just the plants and their roots into the ground. Just plant them as you would any transplant or seedling. Just be sure to give the plants a few weeks before you expect hard frosts so the roots can become acclimated to their new location.
With either method, you will want to cover plants with a thick layer of natural mulch. Apply about half a foot or so once the frosts arrive and plants have become dormant. Straw, shredded leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, etc. are all great natural resources to use as mulch.
Relocate Containers and Pots – Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants
If in-ground planting isn’t an option for your property, another great option is relocation.
No, this doesn’t mean taking your plants with you on a trip to the South (as nice as that sounds!). It also doesn’t mean you should bring your plants into your home so they stay nice and toasty. Remember, strawberry plants actually need colder temps to stay dormant for a period of time.
However, you can move potted plants to unheated locations on your property that provide a bit more protection from winter’s elements. Any outbuilding like a shed or barn works great for this as long as it’s unheated. Even an unheated garage works well.
Even moving plants up against your home in a place where they can be out of the wind can help some. (Be sure to take some of the below Additional Precautions into effect if not moving plants into a building though.)
Along with moving the containers to protected areas, you can also do a few additional steps to help them overwinter in some instances. These are especially important if you are not able to get the containers inside an outbuilding.
If the strawberry containers fit, you can place them into a 5-gallon bucket or even a large tote and then heavily mulch to fill the empty spaces. You can also place containers into heavy burlap sacks and mulch around the open space there as well.
You can also use bales of straw to help protect exposed pots. Place the bales around containers as close as possible to act like a wind block. Be sure to add additional mulch around any of the open spaces and mulch on top of plants as well. This method might not be best for locations with extremely cold temperatures.
Tips On Watering – Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants
Keep in mind that while strawberry plants do go dormant in the winter, they will still need water in order to survive. This is especially true for pots or container plants that you have moved to indoor locations or where you planted the containers directly in the soil.
Those that have been transplanted to the soil without their container should receive sufficient watering through rainfall and snow melt. The addition of mulch will also help them to retain moisture as well.
Be sure to check plants weekly and water only when needed, likely every week or so. Do not over-saturate the soil. Just keep it just slightly damp.
After Winter Care – Overwinter Potted Strawberry Plants
After the threat of frost has passed and the days start to warm up, it’s time to get your strawberry plants ready for spring again.
For strawberries that you planted in the ground, keep any mulch you added onto plants as long as possible to keep them protected. Once you start to see the start of new growth, the mulch can then be removed.
As soon as the ground thaws out and is workable, you can dig up the containers. Be sure to remove any excess soil. Move the containers to a sunny location to promote new growth and prepare for fruiting.
For strawberries you directly planted in the soil, you can transfer them to clean containers with new, well-draining soil as soon as the weather allows and the soil is workable. Be sure to water them well and place in a sunny location.
With plants that you have stored in unheated outbuildings, start to bring them outside as soon as the weather allows. You can do this slowly for a few hours at a time (just like you would for acclimating new plants prior to transplanting).
Soon, new growth will start to form and the plants can be moved to their outdoor locations permanently for the spring and summer months.
And before you know it, you will be enjoying those bright, red juicy berries from your pots and containers in no time at all!
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