This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The article of F. A. Simpkins, on strawberry culture, in the January No. of The Horticulturist, should be qualified in some of its statements.
The object in mulching strawberries is fourfold:
The first and primary object in mulching strawberries is to protect them during the late fall, winter, and early spring months. The object is not so much to keep the ground from freezing as to prevent the frequent thawing and freezing of the surface of the ground during alternating warm and cold days and nights. When the surface of the ground is once frozen in the fall, it is important that it should remain frozen until spring. This is especially the case with light soils. The repeated freezing and thawing of the surface very frequently results in the breaking of the main roots of the plant in case the ground is very wet. In case the ground is dry, the frequent freezing and thawing of the surface renders it still dryer, and the plant suffers for the want of moisture at the root, and from the action of the wind in moving the soil from the roots. These remarks are applicable to the light sandy soils, especially of the prairies of the West, and in latitudes where snow cannot be depended on for a covering during the winter, and where it is sufficiently cold during the winter months to freeze the soil frequently to any considerable depth.
So much for winter mulching.
A second object in mulching strawberries, is to keep the surface of the ground cool, moist and mellow during the hot, dry season that usually sets in about the time the fruit is maturing. If the ground becomes hot, dry and hard just at this juncture, the crop will be cut short from one-half to two-thirds in quantity, and will be very inferior in quality. The quantity of mulching that can be used to advantage while the fruit is forming in the spring, will of course depend much on the mode of culture. On this point it will be sufficient to say, that let the mode of culture be what it may, whatever ground is not covered with vines, should be covered with mulching. If mulching has been used during the winter for a protection, it is well to remove it in the spring until the ground warms, and then to replace it.
A third object in mulching strawberries, is to keep down the weeds while the fruit is maturing. If it is replaced or put on in the spring in proper quantity, just after the weeds have started, it will keep them down pretty effectually until the crop of fruit is gathered.