The BEST Mulch For Strawberries {Ranked From Best To Worst}

What is the best mulch for strawberries? This article explores the best mulch to use for your strawberry plants during the spring and summer growing season, as well as the best mulch to use as you get your strawberry bed ready for the winter season.

Strawberry plants mulched with grass clippings and straw.

The best mulch for strawberries is natural organic materials like chopped straw, clean baled straw, grass clippings, or even wood chips. The best mulch will protect your soil, conserve soil moisture, and eventually add nutritious organic matter back into the soil that will feed your plants. For overwintering strawberry beds, the best mulch is an insulating choice (like straw) that can be applied in an extra thick layer to protect your plants from freezing temperatures, winds, and ice.

Mulching is one of the most important (and under-utilized) topics in gardening, and if you’re an organic no-dig, no-till gardener like we are, it can be pretty crucial.

Why Mulch Strawberry Beds?

Mulching strawberry beds has many benefits that get neglected by most home gardeners.

We know we need to mulch and protect our perennial strawberry plants during the cold season — but what about the rest of the season?

Mulching strawberries aids proper nutrient growth, weed suppression, diminishing fungal growth and establishing strong producing plants.

Mulch will keep your delicate fruits off of the soil and prevent spoilage and soft spots.

There are different times of the year to mulch as well as various types of mulch to use.

If you’re interested in learning more about mulching, check out my other articles on this fascinating topic: how to lay mulch over grass (a sheet mulching, weed suppression tutorial), what is the best mulch for fruit trees?, learn all the methods on how to shred leaves for mulch (one of the most useful additions in your garden), and check out my choices for the best mulch for an organic vegetable garden too.

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What Is The Best Mulch For Strawberries?

Let’s go through some of the best mulch materials to use — or not to use — and how to help you get the most out of your plants so that you have a healthy strawberry bed and a bountiful harvest of fresh strawberries!

These options are ranked from my favorites to my least favorites with some of the advantages and disadvantages of each material.

Chopped Straw

Chopped straw, also called garden straw, is a popular mulch for strawberries. I’m starting with this one because it’s what we use on the homestead — seemingly everywhere in some capacity really.

This stuff is useful.

(It’s also what we use in our deep litter system for our chickens, ducks, and geese to make coop management super easy while also making incredible compost.)

Unlike baled straw, chopped straw is 99% dust-free and has no weed seeds. The pieces are small and light while still providing great protection.

Chopped straw can be used in your strawberry beds year-round unlike some of the others on this list. In the spring, as you get ready for the growing season, keep a 1 inch layer in the entire bed and around each plant.

In the autumn, apply a thicker layer of 6-8 inches for protection over the entire bed in preparation for winter.

Pros

  • Chopped straw is dust-free, weed-free, easy to find, and relatively inexpensive.
  • Composts readily to feed your soil but will still last through the winter.

Cons

  • As straw is light, some of it may blow away in the wind.
  • If you keep chickens, they may be tempted to jump up and scratch around in it.
  • Still not free.

Baled Straw

Baled straw is the stuff that comes in, well, bales. This is one of the most popular and common mulches for STRAWberries and using straw as mulch is easy and relatively cheap.

Straw mulch works great and is easy to use for overwintering your strawberry bed. It is easy to handle and to apply around the plants. Use half to one inch through the summer months.

If the straw is not placed tightly enough, weeds can germinate through it.

In the autumn, bed it down heavier with 6-8 inches in preparation for winter before a hard freeze. Use enough straw so that the entire strawberry plants are covered for protection over the winter.

We have a lot of this left over from last year’s failed straw bale garden experiment so we will be putting it to actual good use this upcoming autumn.

Pros

  • Straw helps the soil to retain moisture, adds a protective layer against disease, is usually inexpensive and easy to find.

Cons

  • There can be seeds, although generally less than what hay has.
  • Straw bales can be cumbersome and heavy to lift.
  • Like chopped straw, chickens also love scratching around in this.
  • Certain pests like slugs can be attracted to straw.
  • You need to find a clean source of straw that has no been sprayed with herbicides which may linger and persist in the bales for years.

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Compost

Compost matter, whether animal manure, or from a compost bin system or similar, is very cost effective and easy to use. It can promote better yield quantity from the strawberry plants.

When using compost as mulch, it assists in good drainage of the soil — which the strawberries thrive in — and holds nitrogen as well as lots of nutrients, slowly releasing them into the soil to feed the growing strawberries. To established plants, spread a half inch layer around the base of the plants.

We add compost to all of our raised garden beds, but still prefer to add some extra mulching material on top.

See my article on the best compost for strawberries and the best compost for raised beds for more in-depth information on this topic.

Pros

  • Compost adds the necessary nitrogen and other nutrients back to the soil.
  • If you’re making your own (especially if you have animals) it is an efficient use of a waste byproduct that you’re essentially getting for free.
  • Encourages root growth and improves soil structure.

Cons

  • It can be smelly, especially if not done correctly.
  • Compost systems can take awhile to build up and decompose.

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Grass Clippings

One of the best mulches. We use this stuff everywhere. When you’re mowing your lawn, rake this stuff up, let it dry a bit, and use it in your strawberry beds and vegetable beds.

It is recommended that when using grass clippings to mulch your strawberry patch, that you allow the clippings to dry before spreading them around the plants rather the dumping several inches at once because it compacts and holds moisture which might mold and not make for good drainage.

See my article can you use grass clippings as mulch for more information this incredible material

Pros

  • It is free, easy to handle and spread, great to mix with other mulches like chopped straw and leaf mold.
  • Great source of nitrogen.
  • Discourages weed growth from the density of the clippings.
  • Can be used throughout the year, a thick layer of 7-8 inches is needed.

Cons

  • Once it gets wet it forms a slippery solid barrier which can grow mold and get pretty smelly.
  • Grass clippings need to be added continually over time since they settle and decompose.

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Chopped & Dropped Plants

The so-called chop-and-drop method is not as commonly used or even heard of outside of permaculture practices — that’s too bad, as chop and drop makes for a fantastic mulch.

It refers to using plant leaves (including weeds!) as the primary mulch, chopping the green plant tops, and spreading around your strawberries. It builds up the soil matter and helps to retain moisture.

Some common plants to use are: rhubarb, comfrey, vegetable tops, Swiss chard, nettle, lemongrass — but there are many more options! Use what’s available, as long as it has not gone to seed. Chop up the fresh green leaves or plant tops and drop them around your plants at least 2-3 inches thick.

Pros

  • Great way to utilize weeds and excess greens immediately instead of tossing them on the compost pile.
  • Very efficient and cost effective.
  • A plethora of differing nutrients and micronutrients will feed the soil as the plants decompose.

Cons

  • Can spread seeds if you’re not careful.
  • Can be time consuming to chop random greens.
  • Can look messy and untidy.
  • Not useful for overwintering, this is strictly a warm-season mulch.

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Leaf Mold or Shredded Leaves

Also known as leaf mulch, this is very easy to come by as you can rake your own leaves in your yard and likely your neighbor is looking to get rid of his own!

Apply a thick layer of 4-6 inches before winter and in early spring, rake it gently off the plants. A mixture of different types of leaf varieties are best when used for mulching.

To learn about how to properly shred leaves, I have an article which discusses the various methods you can use — how to shred leaves for mulch.

Pros

  • Helps to prevent disease.
  • East to obtain and most likely at no cost!

Cons

  • Whole leaves mat and compact together trapping air which creates space for ice to form.
  • This layer mixture of leaves, air and ice does not result in proper protection against cold temperatures.

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Wood Chips

Wood chips are phenomenal and you can frequently obtain large quantities for FREE.

And unless you’re tilling wood chips into your soil (don’t do that) it is a myth that they tie up nitrogen and steal it from growing plants.

The benefits of wood mulch work on everything from fruit trees to vegetable gardens (yes really) and they are fantastic for strawberry plants as well.

Wood chips have a pleasing natural look to them that contrasts well against the green leaves of the strawberry plants and flower buds. After planting in late spring, wood chip mulch is placed loosely around each plant and over the rest of the bed preferably too — without covering the crown or stems.

Wood chips provide a great barrier to prevent the berries from touching the soil.

Pros

  • Is fairly inexpensive and can often be found through a city garden/compost system for free.
  • It does not compact neither blows away in the wind.
  • Great at moisture retention.
  • Takes a long time to break down.
  • Can be mixed with other organic sources like leaf mulch and grass clippings or straw.

Cons

  • It can be messy to work with and have uneven sizes of branches and twigs.
  • Not a good choice for overwintering.
  • Must be moved aside to prune and add compost.

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Pine Needles

Pine needles, also known as pine straw or pine needle mulch, is excellent for mulching strawberries. They discourage bugs like slugs from overtaking, and is also beneficial for improving soil quality. Fresh pine needles help the soil to be slightly acidic which is recommended for strawberry plants.

For best results layer about 2-3 inches of pine needles a few weeks after planting or right before the flower blossoms open. Add pine needles to create a depth of 3 to 4 inches to insulate overwintering plants from the cold.

Pros

  • It can be gathered for free which makes it cost effective and sustainable.
  • It lays flat, does not blow away in the wind, and dries quickly after rain.

Cons

  • They are prickly to handle and work with.
  • Collecting them can be very time consuming.

Hay

Hay refers to baled grasses and legumes used in animal feeds.

It is pretty fine and easy to work with and when using hay as mulch should be applied similar to straw, 1/2-1 inch through the fruit-bearing and summer season and 6-8 inches in late fall for over winter — if you have clean hay free from too many seeds.

Pros

  • Protect the ripening berries from touching the ground.
  • Composts into beneficial nutrients (alfalfa is high in nitrogen for example).
  • Dries quickly after rain.
  • Can be used all-year round but is not recommended for winter due to seeds which will germinate and sprout in the following spring.

Cons

  • Hay carries weed seeds which is not desirable for your strawberry bed.
  • It compacts faster than straw does and you would need to add thicker layers and adding in succession.
  • More prone to mold.
  • SLUGS!

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Ramial Chipped Wood

Ramial chipped wood differs from regular wood chips in that it comes from tender, younger green tree branches (like from pruning fruit trees and hedges).

The studies are emerging and promising on this incredible organic matter and it is especially useful for orchards and fruit trees, perennials, and fruit berry canes.

Those chips provide healthy fungal development. Spread the mulch in a layer 1-2 inches thick around the plants.

Pros

  • Protects the soil from erosion and retains moisture.
  • Adds necessary nutrients into the ground to feed the strawberry plants.

Cons

  • Some trees, like eucalyptus and pine are not recommended for this method of mulching.

Chopped Corn Stalks

Chopped corn stalks are a recommended choice by gardener’s. It is not heavy, nor dense neither does it compact which allows for good air circulation while at the same time provides protection for the plants from cold winter temperatures. Layer thickly 3-5 inches over your plants through the summer and apply more as needed for winter protection.

Pros

  • Easy to come by in the farm country areas and most likely available at no cost.
  • Provides excellent drainage to the soil.

Cons

  • Possibly might need to add more throughout the summer.
  • Is not always available through the spring and summer months.

Cardboard & Newspaper

Newspaper and cardboard makes for a wonderful weed suppression barrier and can be used in strawberry beds. Just make sure not to use anything glossy and to remove all tape and staples first.

Pros

  • Easy to come by for free.
  • Great weed suppression.

Cons

  • Needs to be weighted down or watered to stay put.
  • Some glue used in cardboard can be very toxic.
  • Obviously has no use in overwintering plants.

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Shredded Paper

Laying down several inches of shredded paper and topped with a little compost, works wonders! This type of mulch is a favorite for some gardener’s. Not only does it help retain moisture, it will decompose into organic composition for the soil, and keep the weeds out.

Pros

  • Shredded paper comes from recycling things in your home and is cost efficient.
  • Is eco-friendly.

Cons

  • Paper is lightweight and can easily be blown around from wind gusts.
  • Needs to be covered by a thicker mulch for winter.

Plastic Sheeting & Landscape Fabric

Plastic sheeting or heavy weight landscape fabric works well for overbearing and day-neutral varieties since they don’t produce many runners that would root down. It works well to keep weeds down and also keeps the fruit clean. Landscape fabric is usually preferred over plastic mulch because moisture sits on top of plastic causing the berries to possibly rot.

If you’re a commercial farmer or grower of strawberries — you’re likely using this stuff. For a home gardener? There are better options.

Obviously not useful to overwinter the plants.

Pros

  • Is fairly easy to lay and maintain throughout the season.
  • Is ideal for weed control.

Cons

  • Expect plastic to rip over time and need to be replaced every 2-3 years max.
  • The dark color attracts and holds the summer heat, making picking season extra warm for the picker.
  • Expensive.
  • Plastic is not a renewable resource.

Peat Moss

Not the most sustainable material — leaf mold is a much better alternative.

It is best to add this to your soil and compost when you are preparing the ground with organic matter. It can aid in nutrient availability but contains little to no nutrients of its own. Peat moss can be used for mulching all year round, though it is not recommended as the best mulching option for strawberries, and it is not suitable for winter mulching of plants..

Pros

  • Peat moss offers a slightly acidic soil which strawberries love.
  • It is fairly easy to find and inexpensive.

Cons

  • Not a sustainable resource (although this is debated, I’m not in favor of using it)
  • Is very light weight and could easily blow away.
  • Is not very effective with weed control due to its fluffiness.
  • Can not be used in the winter.

Living Mulches

Living mulch is also referred to as ground cover or cover crop. While there is limited experimentation that has been done with this method, some strawberry farmers are experimenting with this method. It is planted either in late fall/early winter or in the early spring. It helps with weed control and has numerous amounts of nutrients and organic matter that is adds to the soil. Some ground cover crops include, Red Fescue, Ryegrass, Brassicas and Rye seed.

Pros

  • Adds a substantial amount of nutrients back into the soil.

Cons

  • The cover crop must be killed off before going to seed which can be more work than you want.
  • It is more ideal that the seed not be planted amongst the actual strawberry plants, rather in the pathway areas.
  • Limited research has been done resulting in not enough data to provide us with more info on how this mulching method performs over time.

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Rocks, Gravel or Stone

Unlike other mulch types, there is no benefit or nutrients offered to the soil from rocks, gravel or stone. They also do not regulate soil temperature well due to holding heat during the day and releasing it at night. Gravel and small stones can provide good weed suppression.

Pros

  • They offer a nice aesthetic, which is why they are commonly used in garden beds.
  • Gravel can be easy to get by the load.

Cons

  • They can be difficult to work with as well as remove from the area when no longer needed.
  • They compact and can solidify into the soil allowing weeds to push through.

What Is The Best Winter Insulation Mulch For Strawberry Plants?

The best mulch for strawberries to use in the spring and summer is not necessarily the best mulch to overwinter a strawberry bed.

But that doesn’t mean you have to remove your warm weather mulch either. In fact, you can just add the thick protective layer in autumn and then take it off again in the spring when the weather warms up.

For the winter time, baled straw is probably your best and cheapest bet.

To winterize strawberry plants, pile a loose mulch over plants to a depth of 6-8 inches.

Use a material that won’t compact heavily. Other good choices include wood shavings, bark chips, pine needles, chopped cornstalks or cobs, and evergreen branches or pine straw.

Hay should not be used as the seeds will germinate and sprout next spring. Although if you know your source and know when the hay was harvested, it might be clean.

For all the information you need on mulching in your garden, check out my guide Benefits Of Mulch In Your Garden {Ultimate Guide To Mulching} for all the best resources and knowledge.

Final Thoughts

What is the best mulch for strawberries? You have lots of options. Some can be used year-round, others are not useful in overwintering your plants. We prefer chopped straw and also add grass clippings and other organic materials as we come across them. And we always add compost first. Keep in mind it is always best to source a mulch that does not compact heavily, suffocating the plants growth and that can feed nutrients back into the soil.

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