By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor,
University of Vermont
A real joy of edible gardening is being able to pick your own strawberries that
you grew yourself. Growing your own you'll usually save money, know what
chemicals, if any, are on your berries, get some good exercise and relaxation,
and usually have plenty to easily store for later.
Choose the Proper Site
The first step for successful strawberry growing is to choose a proper site. This
is one that isn't in a low area that is particularly subject to cold down-drafts or
frosts. The site should have well-drained soil, and be weed free. Weeds
compete with strawberries for water and nutrients, reducing their vigor or
crowding them out. Wet soils foster rots and other diseases. If you didn't
prepare a bed last year with weeding or cover crops, then make sure to use
mulches after planting and keep up with weeding regularly.
Test the Soil
Best is to test your soil for nutrients, particularly to make sure your soil pH is
around 6. If lower, you'll need to add lime before planting. Soil test results
from your local Extension system can tell this as well as any other nutrients
needed. If you don't test your soil, add a complete fertilizer (one to two
pounds per 100 square feet) only when the plants have begun growth and the
production of runners. Make sure to not get on leaves, and water in after
application. Adding an inch or two of compost on the surface yearly helps
Pick the Right Cultivar
Once you have a site picked and readied, choose appropriate cultivars
(cultivated varieties) for your area. Buying ones locally at a complete garden
store or nursery is often an easy way to get the right choices. If ordered from
catalogs or online, keep in mind some cultivars are better suited to warmer
climates or uses such as processing. Try and choose cultivars resistant to some
of the main strawberry diseases. Consider what you want to do with the fruit.
When do you want to pick? Most cultivars are good eaten, some are better for
June-Bearers or Everbearers?
Most are familiar with picking strawberries, or seeing them for sale fresh, in
June. The majority of cultivars are in this group, called appropriately
"June-bearers". Then there is a group called "everbearers" (you may see the
term "day neutral" too, which is slightly different but usually lumped together).
These produce less, but often larger, fruits in June and then more throughout
summer for a total production similar to the June-bearers. If you want to pick
and store your berries all at once, choose the former. If you want to have fresh
berries to pick through the summer, choose the latter.
Plant in the Spring
Spring is the time to plant, as soon as soil is workable. Frosts seldom damage
the dormant plants, and rooting can start before tops begin growth. When
planting, there are a couple of crucial activities, and a choice to make first. The
choice is whether to plant in rows or hills. The "matted row" method is so
called since the plants send out runners that you push back into the row,
forming a mat. This is the method most use, especially for June-bearers. If you
plant in hills, the usual method for everbearers, you'll remove the runners. This
results in larger plants and berries. The rows may be easier to maintain and to
Plant at Right Depth
The crucial points to follow when planting are depth and watering. Plant the
condensed woody stem, called the "crown", at the soil surface. Too deep and it
will rot, too shallow and it will dry out. Then when planted, water well and
keep plants well-watered through the season. Strawberry roots are relatively
shallow, so dry out easily. Keep this in mind too when weeding, so you avoid
breaking too many with a hoe. Hand weeding near plants is best.
To help keep weeds away, some use plastic between plants and along rows,
covered with an organic material such as straw, or you can just use the latter
without plastic below. Other materials are pine needles, shredded leaves, or
wood chips. Avoid weedy hay and grass clippings that mat down.
For June-bearers, it is important to remove blossoms the first year so the plants
can get established. You can stop doing this in mid-summer for the
everbearers. If using rows, keep the runners pushed or swept back into the
June-bearers form their flower buds the fall prior, so it is important to make
sure plants are well-watered in late summer and early fall. If you didn't use an
organic fertilizer earlier, reapply an organic or synthetic fertilizer then at the
same rate as earlier.
Cover During a Hard Frost
Since strawberries are sensitive to severe cold, you'll want to cover plants when
the hard frosts begin to freeze the soil surface. Straw is most commonly used,
but evergreen boughs or other light and fluffy materials work too.
Once the chance of hard frosts (below 28 degrees F) is over in spring, uncover
plants and use the straw for mulch. Keep a spun-woven fabric for frost
protection handy to throw over plants if frosts are predicted. The flowers are
most sensitive to cold, and if frosted will develop black centers and of course
Keeping plants well-watered before and during harvest results in the best fruit.
You may want to get some bird netting to cover rows or your hills, held down
with stakes (wooden stakes angled away from the plants, tent stakes, or
"ground staples" such as heavy duty bent wire). Harvest fruit when they are
ripe, as they wont ripen further. You can often figure about one to two pounds
of yield per plant, 15 to 20 pounds for a 20-foot row.
If plants are vigorous you can renovate rows of June-bearers for another 2 or 3
years of harvests. Everbearers in hills can be left for 3 or more years before
you'll need to replant.
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