Strawberries and raspberries are among the easiest fruits to grow in the home garden. Strawberries are productive for three to five years, while a well-tended raspberry patch may produce fruit for 15 to 20 years. Depending on the variety, strawberries and raspberries are cold hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 or 4, but they do need some protection during harsh winters. If you live north of zone 6, a few simple steps will ensure that your plants survive to see the next spring.
Protecting Strawberries from Frost
When to Mulch Strawberries
Strawberry plants tolerate light frosts, but the plants and flowers are easily damaged by heavy frosts. To protect plants, cover them in the fall with a 3- to 5-inch layer of weed-free straw. Hay usually has more weed seeds and should be avoided as a mulch. Wait until after the first heavy frost to apply a mulch. If you mulch heavily while the plants are still actively growing, you may smother them. If you wait too long, the plants may sustain winter damage. If you don’t have access to straw, try pine needles or shredded leaves. Shred the leaves very finely, though, so they don’t mat when damp and smother the plants.
Removing the Mulch from Strawberry Plants
Slowly remove the mulch in the spring as the ground thaws and new growth appears. Leave the mulch nestled around the base of the plants until mid-spring. Then, as the strawberry plants begin to take off, move the mulch completely off the plants, and set it in rows next to the plants. Do not discard it yet, though. If a late spring storm threatens, cover the plants back up. If the plants freeze now, you’ll lose the berries.
Choosing Strawberry Plants
A well-timed mulch can mean the difference between rotting, frozen plants and a plentiful harvest, but proper variety selection can help, too. June-bearing berry varieties produce large quantities of high-quality fruit, but because they only produce one crop in early summer, they are vulnerable to failure due to late spring freezes. If you live in an area that frequently freezes after April, consider planting an everbearing or day-neutral variety instead. These types produce smaller harvests, but they produce throughout the summer and early fall. If the first harvest is nipped by a spring frost, you won’t forfeit the entire crop.
Protecting Raspberries from Frost
How you protect raspberries depends mainly on the type of berries you grow. Floricane raspberries produce berries in summer on canes that are two years old. After the harvest, remove the 2-year-old canes that produced berries that season. Cut the 1-year-old canes back to 3 feet high. When late fall arrives, bend the young canes gently to the ground and mound 3 inches of soil over them. The soil will insulate the canes and protect them from winter damage. Slowly remove the soil in the spring.
In places with extremely cold temperatures, primocane raspberries are usually a simpler option. These plants produce a summer crop of berries on old canes and a fall crop of berries on new canes. To preserve both crops, cover young canes with soil in the fall as you would floricane berries. A simpler approach though, is to cut down all the canes every year after harvest, allowing only new canes to emerge each spring. You’ll sacrifice the summer crop, but you’ll have a bigger crop in the fall, without the hassle of providing winter protection.
Want to learn more about protecting raspberries and strawberries in winter?
Growing Strawberries from Capitol District Community Gardens
Raspberries for the Home Garden from Colorado State University Extension
Doug Thornton says
I’ve received live rhaspberry plants in Chicago from Burpee this fall. My soil is clay and not too soft, so I dug a trench 15” deep and put 3” of pea stones covered by 5” of fresh straw, and filled in with a filtered mix of 1/3 peat moss, rotted cow manure, and the clay soil to plant the live root balls, covering with a thin layer of straw and watering. When frost comes, I will cover with more straw and wood chips. Please advise.
I though I had thrown out my raspberry canes but alas….. I have lots of new young raspberry canes with no fruit… how to get fruit next year? Cut them down? Bend then over and cover with soil? Dig em out again in disgust!!!!
Jo Miller says
I moved to a house that has a huge raspberry bush. I dont know what kind of raspberries they are but I had a pretty decent crop. I want to know how to get the bush ready for winter. My friends say to just cut it down. Can you tell me if that is the right thing to do?
Sarah Blevins says
I live in southern Pennsylvania. I grow a large crop of black raspberries. The past few winter’s, because of fluctuations in the temperature, I have been losing quite a bit of my crop due to winter damage. My question is, would draping black plastic over the trellises help minimize the damage to buds.
I always cover my crop of red raspberry plants in the winter, should I remove all the straw from them now that frost thought is done? Or leave it on and work into soil around the base?
Jody Guild says
I live in Wyoming and we have harsh winters. I have a great looking raspberry bush which I just got this year and I was wondering how or what to do for the winter. It is in a large planter right now, and the nights are already geting cold. What would you suggest.
We live in zone 4 CO. The best practice we have found is to move that raspberry into the ground on the north side of a building when the leaves fall off. Won’t live in a planter since the roots are really exposed to cold. Bend the tips down when all the leaves fall and weight with either soil or a big chunk of wood. Cover with straw and or chicken yard digs. Then uncover in the spring sometime in April. Fertilize with super-phosphate. Ta Da!