My first garden recollection was of a garden blabbermouth, a neighbor who told my dad that I was the reason there were no ripe strawberries in our patch. At five, I may have looked innocent but I was a strawberry thief, guilty as sin. Strawberries still top my list of must-have fruits.
As always, begin with the soil even before you purchase the plants. Dig in goodly amounts of composted manure. Take a soil test to determine if you need any extra nutrients and to determine pH. Strawberries prefer slightly acid soil. The very best place to locate your strawberry bed is in sandy loam on a slope with southern exposure. Sunlight all day long will give you the best crop. You can also still get a decent crop if your patch has at least 6 hours of sun a day.
There used to be only two choices in strawberry plants, so-called June bearing and everbearing. Now you can add a third type, called day-neutral. Many garden centers still only stock the first two kinds. It's worthwhile to order your plants to get the very best cultivars and to try out the day-neutral varieties.
The best time to plant strawberries is in early spring on a cloudy, cool day. Before planting, trim the roots to 4 or 5 inches in length. Also, cut off oldleaves,runners, and flowers. If you grow strawberries in your backyard you must be patient to ensure a good crop your second year. It might seem blasphemous, but you must remove the flowers and any wayward little berries that set that first spring. In doing so, this ensures strong plants that will give you a bountiful crop your 2nd year. If you are growing everbearing or day-neutral varieties then you could allow a crop to develop in the fall.
Strawberry plants are extremely susceptible to the wrong planting depth. If you buy them potted, just slip them out of the pot and plant them at the same depth at which they were growing.
Bare root plants can be a little tricky. The roots must be covered up to the crown, but the crown must not be belowground. The crown of the plant is where the leaves and stems meet the roots. The leaves and stems should be resting on the soil with no tops of roots showing above ground.
If you're planting a strawberry patch, the plants should be 1 foot apart in rows 3 feet apart. The planting hole should be wide enough so that you can spread the roots out. Then filter the soil down in and around the roots. When you finish planting, water the plants to work the soil down into the root area and get rid of any air pockets. Then it's a good idea to check the crowns of the plants to make sure the soil hasn't exposed the root tops. If it has, work in soil around the roots and under the crown. For season long watering, a dripper hose is a better way to deliver water at the roots. Strawberry plants should be kept well watered.
You can allow runners to root the second year. This, along with removing any flowers and berries, concentrates all the strength of growth into each single plant. This little wait will give you big rewards. Be sure to keep the patch cultivated and weed free. Mulching with wheat straw will cut down on weeding and help to keep the soil moist.
You don't have to plant strawberries in the traditional strawberry patch. You can incorporate them into a flower border or as a groundcover. Just make sure that they are accessible for picking. You also might want to keep an eye on any 5 year olds that wander into your garden.
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By Stacey Hirvela, Spring Meadow Nursery
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners/ColorChoice Shrubs
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