Spring Considerations on Using Floating Row Covers in Plasticulture Strawberry – Facts for Fancy Fruit

Spring Considerations on Using Floating Row Covers in Plasticulture Strawberry

Using straws is the standard practice for winter protection in matted-row strawberry production. In contrast, plasticulture strawberries commonly use floating rows for winter and spring frost protection. This article will discuss the differences between managing floating row covers vs. straws in the spring.

When straw is used, it blocks the light. There is hardly any growth under the straws in the winter. Most strawberry leaves have decayed at the time to remove straws in the spring in the matted-row system. The condition is very different when using floating row covers in plasticulture strawberries. Depending on the thickness of the row covers, a portion of the light can pass through the cover. Using floating row covers increases the temperature around the plant canopy; black plastic mulch increases soil temperatures. As a result, plants under row covers are not dormant, especially in a mild winter.

Frost protection is one of the major challenges in strawberry production in the spring. After plants enter full bloom, temperatures lower than 32 °F could cause significant yield loss. Farmers use row covers or overhead irrigation for spring frost protection. Protection of both strategies is limited under hard frost/freeze events. We can not control when mother nature decides to bring a hard frost in the spring, but as a general rule, delaying plants entering full bloom would reduce the risk.

Matted-row strawberry growers may use a calendar-based schedule in deciding when to remove the straws. This strategy works because, as mentioned earlier, there is hardly any growth under the straws as it blocks the light. However, this strategy may not work when using floating row covers in plasticulture strawberries. Plants grow under floating row covers during warm periods, even in the winter. If this happens in early spring, it accelerates blooming and exposes plants to a higher risk of frost damage. That said, plasticulture strawberry growers should consider removing floating row covers early in the spring, or only use it during the coldest days in the winter if in southern Indiana. Avoid covering the plants on warm days, and leave the floating row covers onsite to be ready for frost protection.

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