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Growing Fresh Strawberries in the Home Garden

Strawberries are an easy to grow fruit crop that will reward the home gardener with ample harvests for many years. With favorable conditions, each strawberry plant should produce one quart of strawberries. 

Strawberries are successfully grown in every state but do best in well-drained loam soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. The soil structure should be loose and hard pans should be broken up with deep chisel plowing or tilling. Strawberries must be planted in a weed free site. Cover cropping will go a long way in crowding out germinating annual weeds. If no cover crop is planted, the site should be cultivated frequently to kill weeds, or roundup should be used at 2 quarts per acre. It should be used on actively growing weeds, and when used on quack grass around 6” tall, it gives good control.

Small growers and gardeners are encouraged to keep rows clean by hoeing and hand weeding.

Strawberries should be planted as early as possible in spring—frosts will not hurt newly planted berries. Plants should be set in rows 38”-48” apart and 12”-18” between plants for the matted row system. Plant the plants at the same depth that they were at in the nursery, covering all roots but being careful not to cover the crown. Strawberries will need irrigation for frost protection, plant growth and for cooling the fruit in hot conditions. A water soluble fertilizer is all that should be applied for the first three weeks after planting to keep from burning newly emerging roots. After this time, fertilize as you would any garden crop.

During the first season, it is advisable to remove fruit blossoms as they appear, to help encourage plant and runner growth. For best results, set runners away from mother plants equally spaced from other runners. In colder climates, a mulch of straw or leaves can be placed directly upon rows of plants to prevent winter injury to the strawberry crowns. Remove in spring prior to dormancy break.


Choosing Strawberry Plants

There are basically 3 types of strawberry plants to choose from: June bearing, Ever bearing and Day Neutral.

June Bearing strawberries produce a single, large crop per year during a 2 - 3 week period in the spring. June bearers are the traditionally grown plants, producing a single flush of flowers and many runners. They are classified into early, mid-season and late varieties. The largest fruits are generally from June bearing varieties.

Ever bearing strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Ever bearing plants do not send out many runners.

Day Neutral strawberries will produce fruit throughout the growing season. These strawberries also produce few runners. Ever bearing and day neutral strawberries are great when space is limited, but the fruits are usually somewhat smaller than June bearers.

Where to Plant Strawberries

Basic considerations when locating a strawberry patch include:
• Full sun
• Well drained, sandy loam with a soil pH from 5.8 to 6.2 is ideal
• Don't plant where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant have been grown recently (Verticillium Rot)


Planting Strawberry Plants

What ever planting method you choose, the following rules apply:
• Plant in the spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked, or in late fall
• Be sure you have certified disease-free plants
• Select plants with large crowns with healthy, light-colored roots
• Amend soil with 1-2 inches of organic matter like compost or well- rotted manure
• Keep weeds from competing with your strawberry plants
• Make a hole large enough to spread the roots. Hill the center of the hole and place the crown at soil level. Spread the roots downward on the hill. Bury the plant so that the soil only goes halfway up the crown.


Mulching the Strawberry Bed

Mulch between plants after planting to keep the soil temperature cool, deter weeds and to keep the fruit off the soil. Straw is the traditional strawberry mulch. Do not use black plastic since it will raise the soil temperature and optimal fruit production requires cool soil.

In colder climates, mulching over the strawberry plants will prevent injury to the crowns. Wait until the temperature drops to 20 degrees F. and cover with several inches of straw or pine needles. Be sure to use a mulch that can be easily removed in the spring.


Strawberries Water Needs

1 - 2 inches of water per week is needed for juicy fruit. Water is especially important while the fruit is forming, from early bloom to the end of harvest.

Fertilizing Strawberries

Start with a rich, organic soil. Apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at planting at the rate of one pound per 100 sq. ft. Fertilize again after renovation of June bearers or second harvest of day neutrals and ever bearing types. Do not over fertilizer or you will have excessive leaf growth and poor flowering. Do not fertilizer strawberries late in the season in colder climate to prevent new growth that will be damaged by frost.

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