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Question: At the beginning of the season, I bought a hanging strawberry plant and, surprisingly, it really produced lots of strawberries. I’m very pleased with the results! However, with autumn coming on, I’ve begun wondering how to keep it for next year. What do you recommend?
Answer: Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) are actually very hardy, much hardier than they are usually given credit for being. Most will grow perfectly well in hardiness zone 3, even 2, depending on the cultivar, and that’s cold!
However, that applies to strawberry plants growing in the ground, with their roots surrounded by a large mass of soil, because soil is actually a good insulator.
The situation is very different for strawberries grown in pots, at least where winters are very cold (zone 7 and below). Container-grown strawberries are exposed to cold from all sides, even from underneath, and may well freeze solid during a cold winter, a situation that could end the life of even the toughest strawberry. So, some protection will be required.
The easiest solution is probably to place the plant in a slightly heated garage, a root cellar or any other cold but frost-free spot. You don’t even have to be in rush to do this. Just leave your hanging basket outdoors through most of fall, allowing it to undergo a touch or two of frost first, as that will help push the plant into full dormancy. Carry it in to your “shelter” only when serious cold threatens.
During the winter, even though your plant will be dormant, do water it lightly from time to time, just enough to prevent it from drying out completely. And since it’s dormant, no light will be needed.
If you don’t have a cold but frost-free spot where you can shelter your hanging strawberry indoors, try placing the pot on the ground outside, if possible against a wall of the house that will cut off part of the wind and give off some heat. Now, cover it with a thick mound of fall leaves, straw or some other insulating mulch. You can use a net or old cloth to hold the mulch in place. That will insulate it against the worst cold.
You could also “plant the pot” in the garden for the winter. Dig a hole, drop the pot in and fill in all around with soil. Finally, cover pot and plant with a good mulch for additional protection. Come spring, dig up the pot, wipe it off and hang the container up again.
Finally, you can also take the plant out of its pot and plant it in the ground for the winter, still covering it with mulch. In this case, you’ll have to repot it next spring.
There you go: four easy solutions for overwintering container-grown strawberries!