How to keep strawberry plants alive during the winter

August 28, 2009|By JEFF RUGG / Creators Syndicate

Q: I just finished reading your article on strawberry pots, and I have a few questions I hope you can answer for me. This is my first year growing strawberries. I started with four plants in a 14-inch pot. I pinched off all blossoms as they grew -- and grew more plants off the runners -- and now have a total of 18 plants. I built three of my own type of container boxes and transplanted six of the strawberry plants into each box.

All are doing well. I continue to pinch off all blossoms on the plants because I read you should do this the first year to have a better crop the next year. I have been searching for information about storing these types of boxes over the winter, but most of the information is about ground strawberries.

Can I store these boxes in my garage? If I put them in my garage, do I have to cut the plants just above the crowns and cover them with straw? Do I continue to water these plants in the garage? Can I leave the boxes outside, cutting them just above the crowns and covering them with straw?


I live in Hampton, Va., a few miles north of Norfolk. We don't get a lot of hard freezes, but there are a few!

A: Congratulations on growing new strawberry plants and for having the willpower to not let a flower just produce one strawberry this year. Growing strawberries in a container is an experiment. The roots are the problem. They are supposed to be in the ground where they are protected from temperatures colder than freezing. On very cold nights, the roots will need protection; they might be better off in the garage. If left in the garage too long when the temperatures are in the upper 30s or 40s, the crown may start to grow too soon in the season. In the garage, they will need more water to not desiccate.

As part of the experiment, try boxes in different locations. Outside, try one covered entirely in straw and one buried in the ground, if it is not too much work. Or put a box against a building surrounded by straw. The garage may not be available in the future, and when you have 10 more boxes to protect during winter, it will be helpful to know what else works.

It may turn out that none of them work well. Your best bet could be letting all the flowers produce fruit the first summer and replacing the plants every spring.

Q: Mr. Rugg, your article on apple trees was very helpful. I hope you can give me some advice on my privet hedge. The hedge is about 25 years old and runs about 250 feet around my yard. It was very healthy last year, but did not come back this spring. I had them cut back to 2 feet and have always covered the base with leaves each fall. I have been watering them with Miracle-Gro each week for four weeks, and they are all full and green now.

My question is when should I stop putting Miracle-Gro on them? Also, is it agood idea to put the leaves around them again this year? I am next to a lake that receives very cold air from the north.

A: The privet plant is not completely hardy for many northern areas, and when there is a record cold like last winter, there will likely be some die back. The leaves you pile around the base are going to help insulate the roots and lower trunks, so I would go ahead and keep doing that.

You don't want to keep forcing new growth to come out as we get into the fall. The new growth will not have time to harden off, and it won't be able to survive cold weather as well as hardened-off stems. I would say stop using Miracle-Gro four to six weeks ahead of the fall's first killing frost.

Q: I was wondering if you could help me out. We have potted some herbs in our kitchen: parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, mint and basil. Do they typically grow fast or slow? We're not sure if we have enough light for them or if they are just slow. It's very bright in the kitchen, but we don't get a lot of direct sunlight.

A: Plant growth is not continuous. It goes in spurts. The roots grow for a while with the available carbohydrates, and then they stop as the plant photosynthesizes and replenishes the stores. The leaves grow for a while and consume carbohydrates. When they stop using the carbohydrates, the plant replenishes again. When the roots are growing, the growth is not visible. There are times when the plant is dormant and not growing at all.

When plants develop, they need the right amount of sunlight, water, nutrients and temperature. If any conditions are not at the correct amount, plant growth will be slowed or not allowed at all. Some plants have dwarf varieties, which don't develop much at all, and other varieties that will spread rapidly.

Herbs grow best in the direct sunlight of a window or as close to the window as possible. The soil should be kept damp, but not waterlogged. Warm indoor temperatures are best, since a cold or frozen windowsill will slow the growth. When you see new growth starting to sprout, apply a half or quarter rate of a fertilizer that has an even ratio, such as 10-10-10.

The oregano, thyme and sage will grow slower, while parsley, rosemary and basil develop faster. And the mint will grow the fastest.

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