How to Clean up Strawberry Beds

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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.

Reviving an Overgrown Strawberry Patch -- tips on tidying it up and getting it back into fruitful production #lovelygreens #vegetablegarden

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.

Tips on how to clean up an overgrown strawberry bed -- a late winter and early spring gardening task and gets your plants back into fruitful production. Full DIY video included #gardeningtips #vegetablegarden #growstrawberries
Cut strawberry plants back to two inches tall

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.

Tips on how to clean up an overgrown strawberry bed -- a late winter and early spring gardening task and gets your plants back into fruitful production. Full DIY video included #gardeningtips #vegetablegarden #growstrawberries
A mulch of compost goes on after you clean the bed. Some months later, you add another type of mulch to protect the berries

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.

Tips on how to clean up an overgrown strawberry bed -- a late winter and early spring gardening task and gets your plants back into fruitful production. Full DIY video included #gardeningtips #vegetablegarden #growstrawberries
A June harvest of white Pineberries and sweet Mara des Bois red strawberries

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

A mulch of straw helps keep ripening berries lifted off the ground

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.

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  1. Lorraine - zone 9b central California says:

    Hi Tanya, Thank you for the video – it was very clear. One question…do i have to leave the baby plants attached or will they root successfully if I clip and pot them up?

    1. Hi Lorraine, you’re welcome! If the baby plants have roots, they’ll grow on successfully if clipped from the runner. If they don’t have roots, and you want them to grow, then leave them attached to the parent plant. Think of the stem like an umbilical cord. It provides sustenance to the babies when they’re underdeveloped. Without roots, the strawberry plants cannot survive on their own.

  2. Hello I look all over the net and cannot find – is the hairy nettles nutrient draining? just I notice with them among the strawberry bed I have not had an issue with snails
    Same place, as last year only difference less weeding

    1. Weed your strawberries or wild plants of any type will out-compete the plants. Nettles are one of the worst for crowding out plants, so make sure to get all the roots out. You may need to dig up the strawberry plants first before clearing the bed and replanting them.

  3. Fantastic info! Feeling more confident about giving my strawberries a heavier pruning!

  4. Thanks for this helpful video. I have just inherited an allotment plot with an existing strawberry bed. I have no idea how long the strawberry plants have been there. Is there any way to tell if they’re three years old or older, and should be cleared, or whether the bed just needs some cleaning up?

    1. I’d clear the area, mulch the strawberry plants with compost, and allow them to grow. While you’re at it, dig up some of the new plants that have started to grow from runners to create a new bed of strawberries. As for the old bed, see what kind of a harvest they give you this year and if it’s poor, you can replace them with runners that they create this year.

  5. The information I’ve been searching for! Thank you!
    I let my strawberry bed run wild this summer, and I noticed (still during warm days, before the overnight freezes hit) there was white…mold?…under a large area of the plants. Thinking not enough air flow due to the overgrown bed and it being sheltered along side the house. Should I start over and clean out everything, or can I clean the bed up and you describe and carry on? I’m concerned the unknown mold(?) will return.

    1. Hi Amanda, was the mold on the plants or the soil? If the soil, it’s probably just the mycelium from underground fungi. Nothing to be worried about and just soil-life at work :)

  6. Hi! Great video! How do you know for sure which strawberry plants are the runners and which were the originals??

  7. BB (Milwaukee, WI) says:

    This is so helpful! We planted strawberries two years ago – last year they grew like crazy without a ton of berries. This year I really want to take care of them to ensure they have what they need to give us a bumper crop. I was afraid that I’d completely messed up by not clearing the bed in the fall. I’m so relieved! Thank you so much for putting my mind at ease. :) I look forward to watching the rest of your videos.

  8. Super helpful!! Thank you so much for the video. I’ve completely neglected my poor strawberries for 2-3 years in a row.. last year they were so crowded and over run and the only berries we found were the blasted pine berries! When I started the patch, the majority were red strawberries with a minority pine berry but that’s definitely not the case anymore.. I was so over whelmed with what to do to fix it/start over/clean it up etc.. that I’ve just ignored the poor patch entirely. Not so much anymore after watching your vid! Gunna tackle that soon before it warms up anymore. Thank you!

  9. Tanya, I am new to gardening, we moved into a home last June which has raised beds in the garden area. I have a raised bed of strawberries, which did not produce a lot of strawberries last year (but maybe they were done producing?) I do not know when the plants were planted, do I rip everything up or clean them up and see what they do this year? I am in Nampa Idaho, I did not do anything to my strawberries this year to protect them from the winter, do I need to do this in my area?

    1. Hi Coleen, strawberry plants are only highly productive in their first few years. After that, you replace the plants with new ones that you create using the runners. I’d suggest that you either create new plants from runners this year (the free plant option) and then plant them out, or buy strawberry plants this spring. Make sure to add plenty of rich organic material to the bed though first — both garden compost and aged manure are great. Strawberries thrive in fertile soil, and you can’t get that without adding compost.

  10. Lisa Hennebery says:

    I live in Vancouver and am going to clean up my out of control strawberry bed. My question is after I clean them up I should put down mulch (what kind)? Also should I put down straw so the berries don’t rot. When should I do this. I have everbearing strawberries. Thanks for you advice.

    1. Hi Lisa, and Vancouver has a similar climate to here — mild, wet, and plenty of slugs. Avoid using straw as a mulch until the plants have formed green berries, then tuck it underneath. Until then, a good inch of garden compost will be your best mulch. It keeps the soil moist and weed-free and won’t give slugs and snails a hiding place as straw does.

    2. Teresa Webb says:

      I have the same question as Lisa above. I am in Northern California and attempting to clean a strawberry bed. What type of mulch and should I use rice straw. What about cardboard for the dart worms.

      1. Hi Teresa, compost is always the best mulch for strawberries until the plants begin forming berries. At that point, you’d lay another layer of mulch down around each plant. That mulch should be dry and keep the berries from touching the ground. You can use whatever you’d like and that is available in your region. Ordinary straw, rice straw, or paper egg cartons will work. The point of this dry mulch is to keep the berries lifted off the ground and away from the soil. I’m not familiar with dart worms, but if you mean earthworms, they love hanging out underneath cardboard mulch. Flat cardboard can be a place for slugs to hang out too though, so keep that in mind.

  11. Doug McColl says:

    I’m 2 hours north of Toronto, Canada and I’m just getting at my garden now…there are still patches of snow in shady areas and north facing slopes! I’m worried I let my berries get too far gone; last summer I kind of slacked off and the weeds got out of control. I weeded it today and there are a number of plants alive. Sad looking but alive. It looks more like a dirt patch than a berry patch. Should I still fertilize now and then mulch it once leaves start growing, or is there something else I should consider? Night temps could still hit -4 C for the next 2 weeks.

    1. Brrr…that’s cold. I’d keep those berries covered with mulch until it’s warmer. This autumn, consider covering the entire patch with autumn leaves or straw over winter. Scandinavian gardeners do that to protect their strawberries through sub-zero temperatures.

      1. Doug McColl says:

        Well, I took your advice and backed off a little. By the middle of May night temps were no lower than 1 Celsius. I did pull out some old looking plants with big dead, woody looking roots at ground level and buds were coming! In early June, there were green berries which started to grow and ripen over the next couple weeks. And then the squirrels came. Just when a berry looked almost ready to pick…it was gone. Sometimes I would see a squirrel run by my door with a berry in its mouth. On a happy note, I did beat the squirrels to a handful of ripe ones! Its now mid September and frost warnings are in the forecast. I’ll re-weed and load on the straw in October!

  12. Your strawberry beds look so great after you cleaned them up. I miss my strawberries. I am hoping to have them again in my next house. Thanks for sharing so I can keep the dream

  13. Hey Tanya, thanks for the enlightening info! I’ve been wanting to grow strawberries for a while but have been intimidated by the amount of work and whether or not I could make them grow properly. My wife loves them which is why I’ve been thinking of it. Also, wanted to ask why some strawberries I’ve seen are regular size, i.e. about 1-1.5 inches while others are like giant ones. Just curious what the difference is because my wife seems to enjoy the big ones. Thanks.

    1. Strawberries vary in size depending on the variety. Some are bred to be small, and others massive. The larger ones generally fit into the June-bearing varieties and produce a single crop in May/June.