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Tips on how to clean up strawberry beds covered in masses of runners. This is a great job for late winter and early spring and gets your plants back into fruitful production. Full DIY video included.
Strawberry runners are a good thing for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that these long tendrils that grow from strawberry plants create new plants. Wherever the runner touches the soil, roots will grow and a new strawberry plant will form. That means that once you have strawberries planted, you’ll never have to buy new ones again. However, strawberry plants will send out runners whether you need new plants or not. If the runners aren’t snipped back, baby plants can quickly crowd a strawberry bed. You can go from a tidy and productive patch to a matted mess in no time.
I don’t get too concerned about it and let it happen every year. The thatch helps to cover the soil and plants during the winter, protecting them from the cold and frost. Come late winter to early spring I clean up the strawberry bed and remove the babies. It’s important for keeping the patch healthy and productive. It also gives me a chance to transplant new plants, where they’re needed.
Strawberry Bed Maintenance
Before we get to how to clean a strawberry bed, let’s talk about keeping it maintained. Though I let mine run wild each year, it’s recommended to give June-bearing varieties the chop after they fruit. That means cutting the plants back, runners, leaves, and all, to two inches above the ground. Pruning them encourages new leaves to form and fewer runners.
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This method doesn’t work well for everbearing and day-neutral strawberries. They fruit several times, or continuously throughout the summer and chopping them after their first harvest would be a setback for them, and I’d get fewer berries. That’s why I tidy my strawberry bed in late winter, rather than prune in summer. I have a mix of all three types of strawberries in my bed and I find it easier to treat them all the same.
The Life-cycle of a Strawberry Bed
When you plant strawberries in a bed like mine, you space them 12-18 inches in each direction. Providing that the situation is good, the space in between plants will quickly fill up with foliage, berries, and runners. You need to keep the plants maintained, as described above, or clean the strawberry bed every year. The clean-out also allows you to put in new plants.
A first-year plant may only produce a few berries, but it will mature and give you much bigger harvests in its second and third years. After that, it produces fewer berries, so a lot of gardeners replace their plants after the third year. You can bring in new plants, but you can transplant new plants formed from runners too. Plants for free is always a good thing.
When to Clean up Strawberry Beds
Cleaning up strawberry beds is a task for late winter to early spring. We have a very mild maritime climate here so I can begin as early as February. For those of you with more defined seasons, wait a little later to tidy up your patch. The ground should be frost-free and the season warming up. You want to avoid cleaning your strawberry patch in the deep of winter to protect the crowns of the plants but also any wildlife hibernating under them. I’ve found many frogs in my strawberry patch over the winter!
You can safely plant strawberry plants when night temperatures are no lower than 25F/-3.8C, so I’d stick to that rule for tidying established plants too. The ideas is to clean up strawberry beds after the worst of the winter is past, but before the plants begin regrowing. That makes cleaning an overgrown strawberry patch a great job for late winter to very early spring.
How to Clean up Strawberry Beds
An overgrown strawberry bed is one matted with older plants, young plants, and the remains of runners. It may well look like an impenetrable mess, but never fear; they’re easier to clean up than you’d think. All you need is a little time, a pair of secateurs, and some general guidelines. Watch the video above for clarification and to see how it’s done.
The goal with cleaning up an overgrown strawberry bed is to uncover each mature plant. You’ll want to manicure it, leaving it with about three to four inches of growth. Begin at one corner of the bed and work your way in it from that point. Begin by taking handfuls of runners and cutting them back. Once you have some of them cleared it will be easier to see individual plants and trim their foliage. Also, cut off the runners that are growing into your paths
If you find any established baby plants, carefully dig them up. You can replant them elsewhere, or pot them up and give them away. You could even bring them to a seed swap. Remove any other weeds while you’re working. Both annual weeds and the strawberry plant foliage are compostable.
When the bed is fully cleared, apply a mulch of compost, or well-rotted manure. Gently spread it in a half-inch layer around each plant and on all of the exposed soil in the strawberry bed. As green berries begin forming on the plants later in the summer, mulch the plants again. This time with straw, or another material, that will keep the berries up off the ground.