Strawberry plants tolerate light frosts, but the plants and flowers are easily damaged by heavy frosts. To protect plants, cover them in the fall with a 3- to 5-inch layer of weed-free straw. Hay usually has more weed seeds and should be avoided as a mulch. Wait until after the first heavy frost to apply a mulch. If you mulch heavily while the plants are still actively growing, you may smother them. If you wait too long, the plants may sustain winter damage. If you don’t have access to straw, try pine needles or shredded leaves. Shred the leaves very finely, though, so they don’t mat when damp and smother the plants.Slowly remove the mulch in the spring as the ground thaws and new growth appears. Leave the mulch nestled around the base of the plants until mid-spring. Then, as the strawberry plants begin to take off, move the mulch completely off the plants, and set it in rows next to the plants. Do not discard it yet, though. If a late spring storm threatens, cover the plants back up. If the plants freeze now, you’ll lose the berries.