How to Grow Strawberries
Strawberry shortcake, homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam and preserves, chocolate dipped strawberries - what could be better? How about growing your very own strawberry crop? All that luscious flavor just steps from your back door, can't you almost taste them?
Strawberries are herbaceous perennials which may be cultivated in pots or in the ground. There are 3 different types of strawberry plants: june-bearing, ever-bearing and alpine. Your Southern States dealer can help you decide which types will meet your needs.
June-bearing strawberries produce most of their fruit during a 2-3 week period anywhere from the last part of May to the beginning of July depending on growing conditions and weather. Some varieties will produce a smaller amount of fruit again in the fall.
Ever-bearing varieties produce most of their fruit in the fall after a 2 month rest period. This follows their first fruiting in summer which produces a more sporadic, smaller crop. They grow best in areas with mild fall weather without frost.
Alpine strawberries produce small fruit all season.
Crop rotation is essential to successful strawberry production. Plants tend to deteriorate after the third year of being in the same ground. Ideally, you should plant strawberries in a different spot every year. Thus, you will always have 1, 2 and 3 year old plants. At the end of each growing year, dig up and discard the 3 year old plants. The next spring, plant strawberries where there have been none for at least three years. Do not plant strawberries where potatoes have been grown previously. The ground may be infected with Verticulum wilt, and this will destroy your plants.
Choose a sunny, warm site for your strawberries in order to get the best flavored fruit. Timing of the crop depends on the soil. For an early crop, plant in sandy soil. Loams and well drained clays will produce a little later, but the fruit will be heavier and more flavorful.
Keep strawberries free of weeds and work in generous amounts of Statesman Compost and Manure. In sandier soils, fertilizer may be needed as well. Plants should be spaced 18 inches apart in raised rows, so that rain water runs off. If locations are routinely wet, plant strawberries in raised beds. Good drainage is essential to preventing rotting of plants and fruit. Sheets of black plastic may also be used. Make sure it is well anchored with sturdy landscape staples. Cut slits to put the plants through. The plastic will warm the soil, keep weeds down and retain moisture. This will encourage earlier fruiting.
Water strawberries regularly and keep them clean. Ripening fruit should be protected with a layer of straw lain underneath or commercial strawberry mats placed around the plants. Stake fruit nets above the plants to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels. Pinch out extra runners from the plants as they appear. Some cultivars will have more runners than others.
Harvest strawberries for desserts when they are fully ripe, leaving a bit of the stalk attached to avoid bruising the fruit. Use them immediately for the best flavor. For jams and preserves, pick strawberries when they are ripe but firm. Pick fruit every other day, removing damaged or diseased fruit.
After harvesting is complete, clear away the straw and weeds. Cut off the mature foliage of the plants leaving 4 inches of stems above the young new leaves and crown. Apply a balanced fertilizer and water it in. this will help protect the plants from pests and diseases.