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Strawberry Slumber

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 31, 2012

Our warm fall extended the gardening season for many. Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Local Foods and Small Farms says, "As the year is drawing to a close, there are still a few more tasks to be completed as we can close out the gardening year and begin a new one."

Straw is traditionally applied to strawberries when they have gone dormant. "You don't want to cover them too soon as you can smother the plant. We've had a couple of days of 20 degree temperatures in December, so strawberries should be dormant." Dormancy can be noted as the plants will turn a slight purple/red color.

Roegge explains that the reason we straw strawberries is to reduce soil temperature fluctuations. Alternate freezing and thawing of the soil expands and contracts the soil, which can push strawberries up and out of the soil. This displaces roots and exposes the crown to damage or breakage. Maintaining a cover on the soil reduces the amount of temperature fluctuation.

"There are additional benefits to strawing as well," says Roegge. In the spring, having straw surrounding the plant reduces soil splashing, which can reduce or eliminate leather rot disease as well as keep berries cleaner.

Straw is the best material to use as air and water can both move freely through it: wheat straw, oat, rye, or barley… whatever is available. Leaves are not suggested. Place at least 6" of straw over the plants. This should settle during the winter leaving 3-4" of cover.

Straw should remain on the row until spring. Remove the straw when soil temps reach 40-42 degrees in the spring. When removing straw, rake most but not all the straw from the row. Leave an amount to keep the soil covered within the row.

Roegge also provides some early winter garden advice for raspberry and asparagus growers.

"Raspberries plants that have fruited on second year canes can be removed now or in the spring prior to green up." These canes will be brown or gray in color. The primocanes that grew this year (and may have set a late crop of berries) will produce a full crop next summer, do not prune these out. But do thin them to 6 or so of the larger canes per foot of row. Depending upon trellising or not, cut back the canes to 4-6 feet in length and trim back branches to 10-12".

"Asparagus ferns have died back and are a yellow color. It's probably best to delay mowing off that dead fern growth until next spring." Leaving the fern over winter allows more snow (moisture) to be captured and will delay spear growth emergence next spring. The delayed emergence of spears will help avoid early loss due to frost events.

For more information on growing small fruits, go to http://urbanext.illinois.edu/fruit.

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Writer: Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Local Foods and Small Farms serving Adams-Brown-Hancock-Pike-Schuyler

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@uiuc.edu