“What can you use on strawberry plants to keep the bugs from eating the strawberries as they ripen?” Question from Sylvia of Belle Plaine, Minnesota
Answer: The simplest method, without the use of chemicals, is applying super-light floating row covers, also called garden fabric. You can also apply food-grade diatomaceous earth along the ground and on plants to ward off slugs. (You really don’t want to put chemicals on your tasty berries!)
Floating row covers are made of the finest white mesh. They allow sunlight and air to enter while keeping insects out, as long as they are applied correctly. And, cultivated strawberries are largely self-fertile, meaning they pollinate themselves, so you don’t have to worry about keeping bees out.
Applying Row Covers
As your berries begin to ripen, spray the plants with the hose to remove any lingering insects. Then sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of each plant to ward off slugs. You can also sprinkle it on the plants. Finally, cover your strawberries with the row covers and secure them well along the ground to ensure insects don’t get through. You can use landscape fabric pins for this. Some gardeners also put a layer of soil along the edges to make doubly sure that pests cannot enter. The covers can also protect the berries from browsing birds and other animals. Just watch out for voles, because they can tunnel underneath covers.
Once your berries start to mature, lift the covers, harvest as needed and put them back. It’s that simple.
Row covers are pretty inexpensive, so the cost is nominal. And, you will get a healthier berry crop, chemical-free!
Black Gold Horticulturist
Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.
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