Weeds can be a hazard to strawberry production in many ways. They compete with strawberry plants for moisture, nutrients, and light. Strawberry plants are dependent on open space for good light penetration, good water drainage to prevent crown rot, and room for the plants to grow. To achieve this, it is necessary to control weed growth.
Strawberries are planted in raised beds to keep the fruit off the soil. As the berries grow, their foliage can touch the ground, making them more susceptible to weed invasions. To prevent weed growth in strawberries, you must take proactive measures before they even sprout their first leaf.
Watch for different weed varieties
Preventing weed growth in strawberries is crucial for strawberry fields, but some weeds are undesirable even if they’re easy to deal with. For example, wild morning glories spread rapidly by vines that grow into strawberry plant crowns and choke them out. In cases like this where a particular species of weed is particularly aggressive, it may make sense to try a different method of control on those plants rather than going through the whole field and risking damage from other varieties of weeds at the same time.
If you use herbicides, make sure you apply them at the right time and in the correct manner. If they’re applied too early or late, they won’t work as well. Throughout the growing season, strawberry plants will be especially vulnerable to weed growth if their leaves are nipped by frosts or damaged by hail storms. When this happens, weeds can grow into a thick patchwork that creates a monoculture of unwanted vegetation within a field of strawberries that would otherwise be producing high yields.
Weed seeds can be present in virtually any type of soil, so growers need to conduct a preliminary inspection of an area before planting strawberries there. One method is called “walkover scouting” where pairs of people walk through strawberry fields with wide spacing between each other and use their feet to feel for weeds that may have already sprouted or ones that are about to come up. If you find any seedlings, try using one of the weed control methods below:
- Pull out weeds by hand while the soil is still moist
- Use pre-emergent herbicide to kill any weed seeds before they sprout
Applying a pre-emergent herbicide after planting will not prevent weeds from invading strawberries, but it can kill any new arrivals. When applying this type of chemical, be sure to follow manufacturer instructions for use near strawberries. Once weeds reach about 3 inches in height, you can pull them up and remove them from the field, or cut them with a mower and leave the vegetation on top of the ground where it’ll eventually break down to a manageable size.
Keep Weeds Manageable Using Mulch
You can also prevent weed growth in strawberries by utilizing mulch around the plants, but this may not be an option for organic growers because of the risks associated with using artificial chemicals. Strawberries have shallow roots that benefit from being kept warm and moist. In addition to weeds, straw mulch helps reduce evaporation as well as regulate soil temperature, which is why it’s been used since ancient times. There are many ways you can manage strawberry beds using mulch:
- Straw bale gardening – Grow strawberries between rows of straw bales and keep them off the ground where they won’t come into contact with weed seeds or soil
- Weed fabric – Use a type of impermeable weed fabric that prevents seeds from poking through the ground and growing
- Mulch mat – Take sheets of black plastic and cover the rows in between strawberry plants, then push straw mulch over the edges to prevent it from blowing away or seeping into the soil
If you’re Growing Strawberries organically…
Regular herbicides should never be used on organic strawberry crops. Instead, try tying up weeds with something like baling twine so you can trim them off once they die out. Be sure not to leave any living vegetation in your strawberry field because it could eventually begin to regrow and spread its seed throughout your crop, making it harder to keep weeds at bay.
Regardless of how you choose to combat weedy invaders, remember that weeding and killing weeds should be done early and often for best results. The most important time to keep weeds out of strawberry beds is between March and May, when weeds are at their prime and strawberries are just starting to emerge from the ground. Keeps a close eye on any new growth for hampering weeds so they can’t take hold in your crop, thus limiting the damage they could potentially cause during future growing seasons.