At then end of my last blog, I told you that I would explain why the crown of a plant is important, why I am a huge fan of mulch, and why you should plant strawberries in the fall. So first things first. The original plan was to post this before Christmas, but it turns out explaining what a plant crown is and why they are so very important is much, much harder than I thought. So here is what I have managed to cobble together. Hope it helps and excites you as much it does me!
Mulch. This is a topic all over the gardening web, but it is so useful. I feel the need to repeat it. Mulch is amazing!
The first, and my favorite, thing it does is help with weed control. Annual weeds often need the soil to warm up and sunlight to start growing in the spring. There is nothing we can do about soil temperature and honestly we wouldn’t want to as soil temperature is an indicator for so many plants we love. Sunlight, however we can do something about. Sunlight lets the seeds that are close enough to the top of the soil to germinate. They will reach the surface of the soil before they run out of the energy stored in the seed. When you put mulch on top of the soil, the sunlight can’t get through, and the seeds don’t germinate. This will not stop all weeds, sadly. It will however block a good majority of them. Any weeds that don’t come up, also don’t go to seed, and so don’t create more weeds.
The second thing mulch does is that it keeps the soil warm. I know I just said that warm soil is one of the things that can start weeds growing. Which is true, however tender plants that we want like strawberries, Dailhas, Cannas, Hostas, Roses, and Blackberries all need their roots kept warm over the winter. If their roots freeze, they won’t come back in the spring. Even though mulch will warm the soil signaling weeds to start growing; they won’t because it also blocks the sun.
What about during the summer will the soil get too warm?** The answer is No. In the summer mulch will actually keep the soil cool. How? By holding water in the soil. When you water where you have mulched, it keeps the water off of the surface so that it is not evaporated so quickly. This also keeps the soil cooler than it would be otherwise. If you have a dog, think about how they will dig a hole to lay in the summer. They do this because the soil is cooler than the air. Warning: if your mulch is too thick (more than about 2 inches), it can prevent the water from reaching the soil. If this is the case, you can either remove some of the mulch, lay drip tape under the mulch, or move the mulch away from the plant and water more heavily. Removing and thinning are what I would suggest.
The last thing to know about mulch but most important is NO MULCH VOLCANOES (see *)! Mulch volcanoes will rot your plants. Remember when I said plant crowns are vulnerable to rot when they stay wet? What is the third thing I listed that mulch does? Hold in water. If you mulch right up to the stem or trunk of a plant or tree and than water correctly, that will be too much water and will introduce rot into the crown. Now some plants are better at getting over rot and you may not see any real issues. That is the exception to the rule! Most plants will turn into mush if you mulch right up to the trunk and water them that way.
Finally, why you should plant your strawberries in the fall. Strawberries are perennials that act like biennials. Short Hort Vocab lesson. There are three life cycles to plants. The first and shortest is annuals; these plants germinate, grow to their full size, flower or fruit, seed out and die in one year. The second and trickiest are biennials; these plants germinate, and grow in their first year, than flower or fruit, seed out and die in the second year. The third is perennials, these may act like an annual at first, germinating, growing to full size, flower or fruiting, and seeding out in the first year. However, they keep coming back year after year after year. Some perennials die back to the ground each winter (Cannas, Hostas) but will come back each spring.
Strawberries are technically perennials, you plant them once and they will come back year after year after year. Strawberries are drama queens, so they don’t grow like the typical perennial with most of their growth the same year they flower and fruit. Instead they grow like biennials. The first year, they grow to mature size putting on leafy growth but no flowers or berries. During the spring of the second year they will flower and then fruit. To take advantage of this growth pattern plant your strawberries in the fall. This acts as the first “year” for them. If fertilized properly, they will grow a bunch of leaves and several crowns per plant (you know since they are drama queens). Each crown will produce between 3 and 5 strawberries. The more crowns your strawberry plant grows in the fall the more strawberries you have in the spring.
I know its a lot, and I hope I didn’t lose you along the way! Thank you for letting me share my passion.
Until next time,
*Mulch Volcanoes. They are a thing and they are awful for your trees.
** While I am sure there are cases where the soil is too hot to grow anything or too hot to grow certain plants. I have never heard of this being a problem as long there is adequate water. The reason things don’t grow in Death Valley or the Sahara desert is lack of water not the soil being too hot.