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Are strawberries OK as a cover crop?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 3
Location: Odenton, MD
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I have seen many discussion about what to use as a cover crop to help grow strawberries.  My problem is different. I have a garden bed mulched with wood chips which the strawberries just love and grow very well in.  They seem to want to take over the whole bed!  I am wondering whether it would work OK to plant other veggies in with the strawberries, making use of the strawberries as a cover crop to help the veggies grow.  The alternative is to pluck out enough strawberry plants to make room for my veggies, but I was wondering whether letting the veggies grow together with the strawberries would be better.  The strawberries have such lovely root systems, after all.  Are the strawberries good at promoting mycorrhizal fungi?
 
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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I think it is great.  for discussion there are various types of strawberries; some like alpine strawberries are smaller plants with smaller berries and are not day length dependent which produce berries spring summer and fall in my ornamental beds. Pink panda is a favorite in this area as an ornamental ground cover and is compatible with plantings of bulbs and shrubs.
As mentioned the roots are very beneficial for supporting soil organisms and stay in the ground all year while annuals come and go with the seasons. Even some perennials would combine well such as asparagus with june bearing strawberries.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2019
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I've planted strawberries with blueberries in a container of peat,with the idea that the stawberries would protect the soil.
The strawberries still have green leaves in the middle of December!
Ive seen king stropharia mushrooms suggested as a companion for strawberries,since it seems they trap  and devour nematodes that plague strawberries.
 
pollinator
Posts: 194
Location: Sask, Canada - Zone 3b
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Welcome to permies Kurt :)

Good info so far and I can't think of much trouble being caused by letting them take over.

I decided to dig into my Edible Forest Garden book and got some info, though not much:

- Strawberries are noted to accumulate iron from the soil
- To build on what Hans said, in the groundcover section (fancy that), Cultivar varieties are the lowest rated of the strawberry varieties because they grow slower and less dense - Beach and Musk strawberries are rated the best strawberry variety for groundcover.

Roses and alliums/herbs is something I've read about for companion planting, and since strawberries are in that family, it'd be worth a shot - if not just for a fun experiment. Even though some people have had success in planting squash straight into lawn, I'd think it best to pluck out some strawberries to make room for transplants just so there isn't too much competition early on.
 
pollinator
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I have musk strawberries for ground cover. They work great and are very thick. Raspberries grow well in them. Still no berries after three years tough.
 
Posts: 1957
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I have strawberries mulched with woodchips. They have thrived, far more successfully than any strawberries we have tried previously. Unfortunately we also have squirrels. This year they stripped every strawberry before they ripened. The squirrel trap will be seeing some heavy use this spring!

I have planted other things in my strawberry patch - notably berry bushes and some globe artichokes. The bed has some comfrey on the boundary as well, which seems to help stall the invasion of grass from the edges. I do periodically thin the patch, as they seem to do better with less crowding and more light reaching the fruit.
 
pioneer
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Hi Kurt, welcome to permies.

If I'm understanding your post correctly, your goal is to grow strawberries, correct? The idea of cover crops is they are temporary, to grow for a short period of time during a season before being chopped or turned into soil, prior to the desired crop being planted. I think you most certainly can do companion planting. Try experimenting and see what performs best. Michael has noted that he's having good results with berry bushes in his strawberry patch. I myself grow strawberries, but I don't do any companion planting in my strawberry bed. I want my strawberries to have full sun exposure and not be shaded. Hope this helps!
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Yeah, I agree, James. The described usage sounds more like a living mulch than a cover crop, especially if instead of a chop-and-drop, they are left for intended crops to grow through, perhaps with a little space made.

In this context, I think they'd be great. I mean, what's better than a self-seeding annual or a perennial living mulch or groundcover that also might provide a tasty treat? I used alpine strawberries in the exposed soil on the sides of my pallet-raised-bed-hugelbeet project. Before I put them in, the exposed soil was a vector for the loss of subsurface moisture. The surface layers dried out quite quickly, even with a morning soak with a drip line. After I put them in, they thrived, filled the voids between the slats, and spread to the bed. I had no moisture issues the rest of the year (this was mid to late summer, when rains are extremely localised and due to lake effects and urban heat-island amplified evaporation, so more thunderstorm flash and bang, but little good precipitation).

And if little things like voles and mice eat your tiny berries but leave your choicer crops alone, will you really be that distraught?

As to squirrels, though, they are my bane. We have a neighbour who has decided that she has to feed all the poor little squirrels or they'll die (oh God, please let them die!). Before my girlfriend and I moved to our current place, she used to feed them in the spot that has now become my garden bed. I had to explain to her why she couldn't feed her squirrels there. Twice. The second time, when it looked like she was still unconvinced, I explained to her how her "benevolence" was actually artificially increasing the squirrel population density in the area. I pointed out the two squirrel corpses squashed dead on the road, pointed to a couple of squirrels covered in growths or infections of some kind, and others with something that looked like mange, and told her quite plainly that she was causing the increased squirrel disease and deaths. She started to argue, and then Mother Nature took a hand.

A large red-tailed hawk landed in a nearby tree with something in its talons. She noticed it a moment after I did, and was watching as the thing ripped a large gobbet of squirrel meat off and ate it. I said something about the local hawks not minding much, got into my car, and drove to work.

I don't think she's said a thing to me since. She's still feeding the squirrels, though in the park, now, but never on my property. I would still love a way to get her to stop feeding the damn tree rats, though.

-CK
 
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Chris Kott wrote:Yeah, I agree, James. The described usage sounds more like a living mulch than a cover crop, especially if instead of a chop-and-drop, they are left for intended crops to grow through, perhaps with a little space made.

In this context, I think they'd be great. I mean, what's better than a self-seeding annual or a perennial living mulch or groundcover that also might provide a tasty treat?



Exactly.  I don't know what kind of strawberry I inherited in my garden, but I love it.  The berries are about a centimeter in diameter and not particularly frequent - they're a tiny reward for weeding.  But the plants spread madly, even outcompeting the thuggish buttercups!  And unlike buttercups, when I pull the strawberries to put something more interesting in, they're easy to pull. And I have a few edible leaves for salad.

My understanding is that berry production improves as runner production is stopped.  As my other perennials take over, I'll probably try taming the strawberries, cutting off their runners and treating them like a cultivar.  But until then they've got a completely different purpose in my garden.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1957
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I feel the pain regarding the buttercups. They spread rapidly and can be tough to get out. I like to use a fiskars thistle puller - it grabs the whole root ball. I have also found that mulching the area thoroughly with woodchips loosens the soil and make sit much easier - after after months - to pull the whole plant.
 
Kurt Luoto
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Location: Odenton, MD
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Thank you all for the advice.  Chris, James: My apologies, I have not yet learned the proper terminology.  Yes, I should have said something like "living mulch" or "companion plant" instead of "cover crop".  I have no intention of tilling the soil.  I will gladly eat any strawberries that any of the plants may offer, but so far I was only targeting the space between my blueberry plants as being exclusively for the strawberries.  In the rest of my bed I grow other things, like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and fennel.  I was a bit concerned seeing how much the strawberries have spread out in just one year, but then I wondered whether it would be better to just let them grow into the rest of the bed as long as I make sure the other plants have chance to grow taller than the strawberries. Last year was my first year for this bed, constructed using compost and wood chip mulch (a la the Back to Eden documentary), so I am still in the learning stage.  Other sources that I have read/viewed more recently say that while wood chips are all well and good, I should get even better results if the bed always has something growing in it, live roots of some sort.  So whether I get berries from them or not, it seems like a good idea to let the strawberries spread to provide those live roots.
 
gardener
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Kurt Luoto wrote:I have seen many discussion about what to use as a cover crop to help grow strawberries.  My problem is different. I have a garden bed mulched with wood chips which the strawberries just love and grow very well in.  They seem to want to take over the whole bed!  I am wondering whether it would work OK to plant other veggies in with the strawberries, making use of the strawberries as a cover crop to help the veggies grow.  The alternative is to pluck out enough strawberry plants to make room for my veggies, but I was wondering whether letting the veggies grow together with the strawberries would be better.  The strawberries have such lovely root systems, after all.  Are the strawberries good at promoting mycorrhizal fungi?



This is exactly what we do with our strawberry bed, we have planted beans and other tall growing vegetables with the strawberries for several years now, no issues at all. I'm sure that eventually the berry plants will get thick enough in their bed that we won't be able to add other crop plants but even after 3 years and all the runners being planted in, there is still room for the pole beans.
I would not try large leafed items since they could shade out your berry plants. I also would not plant heavy feeders like corn.

List of things we have planted with the berries: pole beans, carrots for seed heads (2nd year carrots) beets, Herbs we have growing within the berry plants: cilantro, thai basil, pineapple basil, chives. None of these have had any detrimental effect on the berries.

Redhawk
 
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this year I planted corn in a strawberry bed among the berries and snap peas on the edge. The peas did well, but the corn was stunted, I guess because the strawberries moved in and took over (there was plenty of room when I planted them). These are full-sized Sparkle strawberries. 

I also have the little wild strawberries growing all over the yard. They were growing when we moved here, so I don't know what kind they are. They make a great ground cover, bear over a long period of time, and are delicious. Amazingly, I found a ripe berry on one in November here in midcoast Maine. It was a mild fall, but still! They spread like crazy, but non-runner varieties exist if that would suit you better.

The wild berries also grow around an apple tree among some other things like peppermint, yarrow, chives, daffodils, and walking onions. The apple hasn't been fruiting well, but I'm not sure of the cause—could be a soil or pruning problem. My peach tree, with similar plants and  full-size strawberries a little distance away and no wild ones, is fruiting great.
 
Posts: 170
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Two years ago I brought back two wild strawberry runners form my grandmothers garden, I put them next to my redcurrents, just on the drip line of a large alder and on the edge of the veg garden. They have spread under the redcurrants and of course into the veg, but they are easy to hoe out there. those two plants are now a patch a meter square, they produce a lot of small berries but I think I have had maybe two as my chickens discovered them and love them! Amazingly the plants can take the chickens scratching without any noticeable harm.
My redcurrants are 30-50 year old bushes planted as a row but now suckered and layered into a solid hedge, so they are pretty dense!
 
gardener
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I have a lot of a native strawberry (for my area) planted on a hugel bed I put in last January. They grew all over the bed in a very short time but then got munched fairly heavily by deer. Soon after a 3+ month dry spell hit so they did not recover much over the summer. But they are now filling out and even growing a bit over the fall/winter. They should make a great ground cover / living mulch next year. They are growing around my shrubs, some lupines and a bunch of California poppies. The poppies are also working great as a living mulch and spreading nicely - almost too nicely! I need to add a few more strawberry plants to finish covering the hugel bed and I need to get some for my new hugel bed. So far I have been really happy with the native type as a ground cover. They spread quickly and produce small but very yummy berries.

My Dad is pulling out a bunch of his strawberries - the cultivator type. He feels that by replacing them every few years with new plants he can increase his production. He is going to give me the plants he digs out and I'm planning on putting them all over my place (I will be getting 60+ plants) to start filling in as a ground cover. Should get more every year since my Dad is doing this on a rotation with several beds of strawberries. My hope is that they will provide a nice living mulch and berry production all over my property.
 
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