Some of our strawberry plants aren’t doing too well, and we wanted to learn more about how to revive them. We had some ideas, but we wanted to do more research to be sure. Here’s what we found.
Strawberry plants commonly die from improper watering, nutrients, climate, as well as transplant shock, pests, and diseases like aphids and mildew. To fix this, only water when the soil is dry, use compost or balanced fertilizer, monitor for pests like slugs, and remove any diseased plants to prevent the spread.
So, while strawberry plants die for several reasons, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and from there, how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
In this article:
- Can Dying Strawberry Plants Be Saved?
- How to Tell If Your Strawberry Plant is Dying
- 3 Quick Steps To Revive A Dying Strawberry Plant
- The Top 7 Reasons Why Strawberry Plants Die
Can Dying Strawberry Plants Be Saved?
Dying strawberry plants can be revived if you first find the proper issue and apply a timely solution. The hard part is finding out which issue is affecting them.
However, a good approach is to start with the possible issues based on the symptoms and try solutions starting from the least invasive to the most invasive.
The reason why we want to start with the least invasive solution first is to minimize the stress your strawberry plants get.
For example, if we’ve narrowed down the possible issues to a lack of water or drainage, it’s much easier on the strawberry plant to adjust its watering than it is to dig it up or spray it with chemicals.
By approaching solutions in this way, it makes it much easier for you to treat your strawberry plant, as you can work your way up from simple solutions to more complex ones.
How to Tell If Your Strawberry Plant Is Dying
|Strawberry Plant Symptom||Issue*|
|Wilting/Curling Leaves||Under-Watered, Heat Stress, Transplant Shock|
|Yellow Leaves||Under/Over-Watered, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests|
|Brown Leaves||Under-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Pests|
|Red Leaves||Frost Stress, Lack of Nutrients, Disease|
|Spotted Leaves or Fruit||Pests or Diseases|
|Dropping Leaves||Under/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests or Diseases|
|Dropping Fruit||Under/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Lack of Pollination, Pests or Diseases|
It’s sometimes difficult to tell if your strawberry plant is dying, but generally, if it has any of the above symptoms, it’s likely declining in health.
Keep in mind that these symptoms aren’t normally a cause for concern if they’re affecting less than 10-20% of the plant. For example, it’s fairly normal for 10-20% of your strawberry plant’s leaves to be yellow or brown. The same is true for some flower or fruit drop.
However, if more than 20% of the plant is affected, or you’re seeing other concerning signs such as pest or disease symptoms, then action is likely needed to save the plant.
Also, strawberry plants are deciduous plants, so it’s normal for their leaves to turn red and yellow, and drop in the fall and winter. This is a strategy to reduce the plant’s energy expenditure and go into dormancy to survive the winter (much like bears hibernating).
On the other hand, evergreen fruiting plants adapted to the cold differently or are native to more tropical climates (with little to no frost). As a result, evergreen fruits (such as citrus trees) keep their leaves green year-round.
So, don’t stress if your strawberry plant is losing its leaves in the fall or winter!
However, if your strawberry plant is losing its leaves early (in the spring or summer), or has other symptoms, continue reading to see what we can do to help it.
3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Strawberry Plant
If you’ve already tried finding out which issue your strawberry has, and you’ve gotten stuck, there’s still hope.
Here are 3 steps you can use to save your strawberry plant, for just about any condition.
1. Identify the Possible Issues
The first step in reviving a dying strawberry plant is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!
If you haven’t seen them yet, reference the below sections for the top 7 most common strawberry plant issues.
2. Isolate the Actual Issue
Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your strawberry has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.
Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your strawberry plant is exhibiting. This will give you the best chance to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to repot the plant if the problem is a watering issue).
3. Test Solutions
Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.
Start with the least invasive solution and work your way up to the most invasive. Again, it’s much easier on the plant (and you) to provide less water than to repot or transplant it. Try to save those options for last.
Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. Hopefully, one of them sticks.
Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or noticed something new the second time around.
Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Stay the course and see if you can uncover it.
If you have no idea what issue your strawberry plant might have, that’s okay! That’s what I’m here for. To give you a head start, let’s explore the 7 most common reasons strawberry plants die.
The Top 7 Reasons Why Strawberry Plants Die
Under-watering is one of the most frequent reasons strawberry plants die and it’s especially common if you get hot and dry summers.
The best way to water strawberry plants is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. I check this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the plant’s drip line. When watering soak the ground at least 2 feet deep.
Since the majority of strawberry plant roots are found within the first 6 inches of soil, soaking the soil to this depth ensures the majority of the roots get water.
Deep watering like this encourages the plant to grow deeper roots, which provides it with a deeper water table and better anchorage.
On the other hand, shallow and frequent watering encourages shallow roots and makes drought stress and wind damage more likely.
If you use the finger test and feel that your strawberry plant’s soil is often too dry, two key practices can help.
Apply 1 inch of compost and 1-2 inches of mulch under the plant’s drip line. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months. Keep both materials at least 3 inches from the strawberry plants to avoid mold buildup.
Compost provides essential nutrients and increases the soil’s water retention. For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s organic matter leads to an additional 20,000 gallons of water held per acre. Compost also feeds the soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi, leading to benefits such as increased nutrients and pest and disease resistance.
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Mulch dramatically reduces evaporation, regulates soil temperature, and prevents soil erosion. Since strawberry plants evolved as a groundcover species in forests, they prefer plenty of mulch in the form of fallen leaves and branches.
As permaculture guru Geoff Lawton says, a forest grows on a fallen forest.
While compost and mulch help soil that drains too quickly, what happens if the soil has poor drainage and is over-watered?
2. Over-Watering (Poor Drainage)
While both under and over-watering can be prevented by only watering when the soil is dry, if the soil has poor drainage it can become waterlogged and lead to issues such as root rot (more on this later).
Over-watered soils are most often a result of ground that’s depressed, compact, or high in clay.
Here are some quick steps to fix poorly draining soil.
Let’s start with the first.
A good way to test your soil’s drainage is by doing a percolation test. Here’s how to do one:
- Dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole
- Place a yardstick in the hole and fill it with water
- After an hour, measure the water line on the yardstick
The goal for proper drainage is about 2 inches per hour. However, this is a guideline and not a rule, so don’t worry if yours is way off. This is just a way to see if your soil has poor or fast drainage.
I recommend digging at least 3 different holes across your property as some areas might have much better drainage than others.
Amend Poorly Draining Soil
Once you determine your soil’s drainage, it’s time to amend it.
Interestingly, the solution for both poor drainage and fast drainage is the same—compost.
Compost not only breaks up the clumps of ground in poorly-draining soil, but its organic matter retains water in fast-draining soils.
As mentioned above, I recommend providing your strawberry plants with 1 inch of compost every 1-2 months. Over time, the compost will work its way into the soil.
If you can’t wait for the compost to do its job on the soil, you can also move your strawberry plant to an area with better drainage such as a raised bed or mound of soil.
If you have potted strawberry plants, you can skip the wait and instead repot them with fresh potting soil.
Once your strawberry plant has well-draining soil, provide 2 inches of mulch to give it a big boost of water retention and protection from the elements.
Holding off on mulching until the soil has proper drainage means the mulch can’t trap excess moisture and make the drainage even worse (preventing evaporation).
Some good mulches for strawberry plants are leaves, straw, wood chips, grass clippings, and pine needles. We used wood chips for our strawberry plants.
3. Transplant Shock
If your strawberry plant was recently planted or repotted, and it’s starting to die, it’s most likely due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system.
Avoid transplanting unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.
To help avoid transplant shock with strawberry plants, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the stem as before
- Apply 1 inch of compost and 1-2 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
4. Improper Nutrients
I used and recommend Down to Earth’s Organic Acid Mix Fertilizer for strawberry plants (pictured above)
When strawberry plants get too many nutrients, their roots are chemically burned which stresses the plant and causes a decline in health. Excess nutrients are often caused by fast-release chemical fertilizers as compost isn’t potent enough.
If you believe you’ve over-fertilized your strawberry plant, I suggest removing as much of the fertilizer as possible via leaching.
To leach, heavily water your strawberry plant’s soil to dilute the existing fertilizer and allow it to flow deeper into the soil (and out of reach of the plant’s roots). You may have to do this at least a few times.
Avoid leaching if your soil has poor drainage as the soil can become waterlogged.
In this case, either apply generous amounts of compost and garden soil to dilute the chemical nutrients, or repot the plant with fresh potting soil (for potted strawberry plants).
A Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
If you haven’t fed your strawberry plant in the past several months, there’s a good chance it may be dying from a lack of nutrients.
Symptoms of a lack of nutrients depend on the deficiency.
For example, strawberry plants commonly get a nitrogen deficiency and get lightly colored or yellow leaves.
Let’s take a look at the ideal way to prevent a lack of nutrients for your strawberry plants.
The Best Way To Fertilize Strawberry Plants
If you decide to use a chemical fertilizer, opt for one with a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), such as a 10-10-10.
Each brand has different percentages, so follow the instructions on the label for the best results.
If you’d like to see which fertilizers I recommend, check out my recommended fertilizer page.
Alternatively, you can use compost.
I recommend applying 1 inch of compost every 1-2 months under the plant’s drip line followed by 2 inches of mulch.
Keep in mind that while nutrients are essential, they aren’t everything.
Imbalanced Soil pH
Strawberry plants prefer a soil pH of 5.3 to 6.5.
The reason strawberries (and most plants) prefer a slightly acidic soil pH is that it dissolves the nutrient solids in the soil, making them more accessible to the plant’s finer roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, Instructional Support Specialist, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management
When strawberry plants have an imbalanced soil pH, they develop issues such as discolored and dropping leaves. Additionally, their flowers and fruit drop early and the plant is more likely to develop other issues.
Two good ways to test your soil’s pH are with pH strips or a meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH I recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find your strawberry plant’s soil is too alkaline (above 6.5), provide acidic amendments such as peat moss, sand, and coffee grounds.
On the other hand, if your soil is too acidic (under 5.3), provide alkaline amendments such as charcoal, wood ash, and lime.
5. Heat or Frost Stress
Strawberry bushes are natively from temperature climates, so they prefer cooler environments such as USDA hardiness zones 4-9. To find your hardiness zone and see if it’s compatible with strawberries, see the USDA hardiness zone map.
However, this is a generalization as some varieties prefer warmer or colder zones.
Climates that are too cold (below zone 4) or those that are hot and dry quickly pose a problem for strawberry plants.
Keep strawberry plants in a cool and mild climate if possible. If the sun is too hot, and the tips of the leaves are curling and browning, provide shade or move potted strawberries indoors. When bringing them indoors, take care to avoid the hot and dry air from the central heat.
As always, make sure your strawberry plants get at least 8 hours of direct sunlight daily (aim for the morning sun as it’s cooler).
In hot and dry areas such as California, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Texas, strawberry plants lose moisture from their leaves and soil quickly. Normally, strawberry plants do best in temperatures under 80ºF. Any hotter and they start to decline and die.
Much like humans, plants cool themselves by exhaling moisture (called transpiration). Plants also keep themselves cool by sending moisture from their roots to their leaves.
This becomes a problem when the climate is too hot and dry. Essentially, the transpiration and root moisture can’t keep up and cool the plant and its leaves.
As a result, the strawberry plant’s leaves dry, curl, brown, and drop if it’s bad enough.
So, the hotter and drier the weather, the more energy the plant uses to transpire and survive, and the less energy it has to use to establish its root system and grow. This drain of resources can quickly stunt or kill the plant.
The best practices to help your strawberry plant survive hot and dry weather are to provide it with sufficient water, compost, and mulch. Additionally, give it partial shade from the west (as the afternoon sun is the hottest).
If you live in a drier climate and you’d like more information about the best drought-tolerant fruiting plants, check out my other post: 30 Best Drought-Tolerant Fruit and Nut Trees (Ranked).
If temperatures fall below -20ºF to -30ºF (the standard zone 4 minimum temperature), strawberry plants will likely start to die.
For outdoor strawberry plants, you can insulate the plant and its roots by providing it with mulch. You can also use windbreaks such as walls or other plants to reduce the effects of windchill. Greenhouses or high tunnels will also work.
I would suggest not moving potted strawberry plants indoors during the winter as they typically require 200-300 chill hours to fruit properly once spring arrives. Chill hours are the number of hours under 45ºF.
Since indoor temperatures rarely get this low, it’s normally not a good idea to bring them inside.
Another issue with moving a strawberry plant indoors is that the central heat indoors can dry out the plant quickly.
I found out about the effects of central heat the hard way.
We had a surprise snowstorm last year here in Austin, Texas, and I moved my potted Meyer lemon tree inside. However, it quickly started losing its leaves. After moving it into a cooler room, it quickly started growing new leaves (see the photo below).
When it comes to sheltering your potted strawberry plant during temperatures below -30ºF, move it to a basement or another cool, sheltered location. Try to keep the temperature under 45ºF to maintain the plant’s chill hours if possible.
6. Pests (The 3 Most Common)
1. Slugs & Snails
Slugs and snails love to munch on the tender leaves and fruits of strawberry plants, leaving behind holes and ragged edges.
Here’s some quick info on how to tell if your strawberry plant is getting eaten by slugs and snails and how to prevent or remove them.
Signs of Slugs and Snails:
- Irregular holes in leaves and fruits
- Slimy trails (known as slime trails) on or around the plants
Prevention and Treatment:
- Encourage natural predators like birds, frogs, and beetles by creating a diverse garden habitat.
- Use beer traps to catch the pests. Simply fill a shallow container with beer and bury it at soil level. Slugs and snails will be attracted to the beer, fall in, and drown.
- Apply diatomaceous earth or crushed eggshell barrier around the plants. These materials have sharp edges that deter slugs and snails from crossing.
- Plant companion plants such as sage, lavender, and rosemary to help repel them.
Pro-tip: If you have ducks, let them have a go at the slugs and snails. Just keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t damage your strawberry plants.
These tiny sap-sucking insects can cause serious damage to your strawberry plants by sapping the plant’s nutrients and spreading viruses.
Signs of Aphids:
- Yellow, curling, or misshapen leaves
- Stunted growth
- Black sooty mold on leaves (a result of the aphids’ sticky honeydew excretion)
Prevention and Treatment:
- Introduce beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, which are natural predators of aphids.
- Spray plants with a homemade solution of water and a few drops of dish soap to help dislodge and kill the aphids. Be sure to rinse the plants with clean water after a few hours to prevent soap buildup. You can also use neem oil.
- Use a strong jet of water to knock aphids off the plant (this is what worked when I removed aphids from my Kaffir lime tree). Repeat as needed
3. Spider Mites
These minuscule pests can be difficult to spot, but they can cause severe damage to your strawberry plants by sucking the plant’s juices and leaving behind tiny, discolored spots on the leaves.
Signs of Spider Mites:
- Fine webbing on the undersides of leaves
- Tiny yellow, brown, or white spots on leaves
- Overall plant discoloration and decline
Prevention and Treatment:
- Keep plants well-watered and stress-free, as spider mites are attracted to stressed plants.
- Release ladybugs or predatory mites, like Phytoseiulus persimilis, to naturally control the spider mite population.
- Spray plants with a mixture of water and a few drops of dish soap to help dislodge and kill the mites. Remember to rinse the plants with clean water after a few hours. Neem oil also works for spider mites.
7. Diseases (The 3 Most Common)
1. Verticillium Wilt
This fungal disease is caused by the soil-borne fungi Verticillium dahliae and Verticillium albo-atrum. It can lead to strawberry plants wilting, yellowing leaves, and even plant death.
Signs of Verticillium Wilt:
- Yellowing, curling, or wilting leaves, starting from the bottom of the plant
- Stunted plant growth
- Brown discoloration in the plant’s vascular tissue (visible when the stem is cut)
Prevention and Treatment:
- Choose resistant strawberry cultivars, such as ‘Allstar,’ ‘Chandler,’ and ‘Honeoye.’
- Practice good crop rotation, avoiding planting strawberries in the same spot where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplants have been grown in the past 3-4 years.
- Remove and destroy infected plants to prevent the spread of the disease.
- Improve soil health by adding compost and other organic matter.
2. Botrytis Fruit Rot (Gray Mold)
Caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, this disease can result in moldy, rotting fruits and can also affect flowers and leaves.
Signs of Botrytis Fruit Rot:
- Soft, brown spots on fruits, which may become covered in gray, fuzzy mold
- Wilted or brown flowers
- Moldy or discolored leaves
Prevention and Treatment:
- Improve air circulation by spacing plants properly and removing any weeds or unnecessary foliage.
- Water plants at the base, avoiding wetting the leaves and fruits.
- Remove and discard any infected or rotting fruits, flowers, or leaves.
- Use a preventative organic fungicide, such as copper or sulfur-based products, when conditions favor the disease (cool and wet weather).
3. Powdery Mildew
This fungal disease, caused by Podosphaera aphanis, is characterized by a powdery white coating on the leaves, stems, and sometimes fruits of the strawberry plant.
Signs of Powdery Mildew:
- White, powdery coating on leaves, stems, and/or fruits
- Curling, distorted, or stunted leaves
- Poor fruit quality and reduced yields
Prevention and Treatment:
- Provide adequate sunlight and air circulation by proper plant spacing and pruning.
- Water plants in the morning, so the foliage dries quickly, and avoid overhead watering.
- Remove and discard infected plant material to reduce the spread of the disease.
- Apply a sulfur-based fungicide or a homemade solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon horticultural oil, and 1 gallon of water. Spray the plants, making sure to cover all surfaces.
A Note on Pesticides, Fungicides, and Herbicides
We recently had an issue with caterpillars eating our basil plants and we were about fed up. Every time we’d plant basil, the caterpillars ate it.
Fortunately, we found an organic spray at our local nursery that’s made from fermented rum. The day after spraying, we’d find dead caterpillars on the soil.
If you’d like to find out more about this organic spray, you can find it here on Amazon.
So, what’s my point here?
Even though chemical sprays and fertilizers are an easy way out, like all easy and convenient things, there are usually long-term costs. Namely to the plants, soil, and surrounding beneficial life.
Before using conventional sprays, weigh the pros and cons and consider trying organic or permaculture-based treatments first.
To give you a head start, Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and most importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey).
Also, check out how Mark Shepard uses a method called STUN (Sheer-Total-Utter-Neglect) to help his berry plants, fruit trees, and nut trees THRIVE.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.