This time of year we get a lot of questions about planting in August and into the fall. Here is a response that I sent to a customer who had purchased plugs in July. She transplanted into pots and was asking about when she should transplant to her garden and how to take care of the plants from now until spring.
The only thing I left out was a short discussion about making sure that the soil doesn’t dry out during the winter. It might sound crazy to suggest irrigation in the winter but here in zone 7 we have had relatively warm winters where the soil became dust dry.
Here is the response I sent:
“I recommend transplanting to the garden bed as soon as you can. It’s best to take off flower stalks this time of year when transplanting. It helps direct the plant’s efforts to putting down a root system rather than fruiting. Limit nitrogen as much as possible this time of year. Too much nitrogen encourages vegetative growth (leaves). What you want to encourage is root growth so the plants establish before harsh weather.
I do not recommend trimming the plants until spring. It can shock them. Strawberries will continue to grow even when it’s fairly cold. If foliage is removed it limits this growth.
You do want to mulch the plants after a couple of hard frosts. I recommend the use of straw as a mulch. 2 to 3″ of straw will help moderate temperature swings during the winter and reduce freeze/thaw cycles. Freeze/thaw is one of the strawberry killers. It exposes roots and pushes plants out of the soil. Uncover in spring when daily temperatures are consistently above freezing. They can be uncovered before the last frost date without damage but they need to be watched if hard frosts come after mulch removal.
When the mulch is removed in the spring is the best time to fertilize for the first time. If using a granular fertilizer it should be lightly worked into the upper surface of the soil. Liquid fertilizers get to the roots faster. Avoid high nitrogen rates. This time you want to encourage flowering instead of vegetative growth but you do need leaf growth to increase the plant size. The larger the plant the more production potential.”