Bite into a homegrown strawberry and prepare to get hooked on growing your own tasty berries. Once you savor the fresh, sweet flavor of a strawberry straight from the garden, there's no return to store-bought varieties.
A member of the rose family, the strawberry plant is a low-growing perennial edible that is the fastest growing of all fruiting crops. These plants are self-pollinating and produce fruit over a long growing season. Depending on the varieties you grow, you can harvest strawberries throughout the spring and summer months, and into the fall.
The key to harvesting plenty of juicy berries is to grow varieties that are well suited to your climate and purposes. When planning your strawberry patch, consider the following three main types of berries:
June-bearing: This strawberry variety produces an especially heavy crop in May or June. After that first crop, you may get another small crop, but then the plants stop producing berries until the following year. This berry type works well if you want a lot of fruit all at once to make jam and baked goods. Popular June-bearing varieties include Sequoia, Chandler, Earliglow, L'Amour, Allstar, Cabot, Cavendish, Honeoye, Jewel, Kent, Sparkle, Surecrop and Seneca.
Day-neutral: Day-neutral strawberries aren't affected by day length and are less sensitive to temperature extremes than other strawberry types. The flower buds form between 35 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit. This results in fruit production over a long growing season — from spring through fall, and even year-round in mild climates. Popular day-neutral varieties include Albion, Seascape, Tribute, Tristar, Selva, Sweet Ann and San Andreas.
Ever-bearing: Everbearing strawberry plants produce one crop in spring and another in fall. Popular everbearing varieties include Fern, Pink Panda and Quinault.
Strawberry plants come in two forms: dormant crowns and established plants. Dormant crowns, also known as bareroot, are available in the winter months in a semi-dormant state. Dormant crowns have much of the soil removed from their roots. You can store healthy dormant crowns in the refrigerator for up to one month before planting. Once planted, dormant crowns begin active growth.
Established plants come potted up in containers and are available in the early spring. They are already actively growing and ready for in-ground planting. Find both types of plants at your local nursery.
You can grow strawberries in the ground, in raised beds and in containers. To fruit well, the plants require full sun, meaning six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. They can tolerate some shade, but less than ideal lighting conditions will result in less fruit. Avoid planting strawberries at the bottom of a hill or in a low-lying area, where frost pockets tend to form. Minor injury from cold won't kill your plants, but could result in blossom loss.
Remove all weeds from the growing site before planting. Weeds compete with strawberry plants for water, nutrients and light, and they often harbor insect pests and diseases. To prevent strawberries from becoming infected by the soil-borne disease verticillium wilt, avoid planting in an area where you have grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, raspberries or melons within the last three years.
Strawberries need well-draining soil, rich in organic matter and on the acidic side. The soil pH should fall between 5.8 and 6.2. A pH lower than 5.8 indicates the soil is too acidic for healthy strawberry growth; soil pH higher than 6.2 indicates the soil is too alkaline. If the pH isn't in this ideal range, key nutrients won't release to the strawberry plants. This results in stunted growth and little to no fruit.
To verify that the soil pH is in the correct range, do a simple soil test. Your local county extension agent can help with information, kits and suggestions for testing laboratories. If the test results determine that the soil pH is too low, apply a product such as Pennington® Fast ActingTM Lime to raise soil pH, according to test recommendations and package directions. To lower soil pH when it's too alkaline, test results may recommend adding soil sulfur instead.
Before planting, apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost to the soil surface and then mix it into the soil.
Strawberries are heavy feeders, so add a fertilizer such as Alaska® by Pennington® All Purpose Fertilizer 6-4-6 to the soil before planting. Wait a week after adding amendments and fertilizers before planting your strawberry plants.
For container-grown strawberry plants, grow in pots that have drainage holes. Use a potting soil that contains draining agents, such as perlite or pumice.
Plant in the spring (March to mid-May, depending on your location), once nighttime temperatures consistently remain 35 degrees Fahrenheit or above. You can even plant as late as mid-June. Avoid planting in soggy soil.
Before planting, prepare bareroot/dormant crowns by soaking the roots for two hours in a bucket of water containing one tablespoon of Alaska® by Pennington Pure Kelp Plant Food 0.13-0-0.60 to help prevent transplant shock.
Plant bareroot and potted plants in a hole that is large enough to spread the roots out. Completely cover the roots with soil, making certain that the crown (the thick part in the plant's center from which the roots extend) is a 1/4 to 1/2 inch above ground. Firm the soil around the plant to eliminate any air pockets. Water the soil well after planting.
Well-maintained strawberry plants will give you an abundant harvest. As fruiting plants, strawberries need a constant source of moisture. Keep the plants well watered, but not soggy. Soak the planting area or container well once the top inch of soil has dried out.
Strawberries are heavy feeders. Fertilize the plants monthly with a fertilizer suited for berries, such as Alaska® Morbloom 0-10-10 fertilizer, which has the ideal N-P-K ratio for strawberry growth. Strawberries need a fertilizer that contains little to no nitrogen, as nitrogen will result in heavy foliage, but no fruit. The phosphorus and potassium is necessary for abundant, tasty, sweet fruit and vigorous roots.
Strawberries can fall victim to a variety of pests and diseases. Strawberry-loving pests include snails and slugs, two-spotted spider mites, and a variety of other unwelcome guests. Sevin®-5 Ready-To-Use 5% Dust treats strawberry pests such as meadow spittlebug, strawberry leafroller and strawberry weevils. Just allow seven days between treating your strawberries with Sevin®-5 Ready-To-Use 5% Dust and enjoying your berry harvest, and don't exceed five applications per year.
Diseases that infect strawberry plants include various fungal infections, such as botrytis fruit rot, leather rot, powdery mildew, red stele and verticillium wilt. To prevent these conditions, avoid overwatering strawberries and ensure they get adequate sunlight. In addition, keep the fruit from touching the soil by mulching with pine needles, straw or hay.
Strawberries are ready for harvesting in three to five weeks after blossoming. The sunnier and warmer the weather, the sooner they'll ripen. Strawberries mature on the vine, so pick them when they are a bright red with no tinge of green or white. The best time of day to harvest is in the early morning or late afternoon, when the berries are cool and less likely to bruise. Pinch or cut the fruit, leaving some stem to help preserve freshness. Berries are perishable, so eat or refrigerate them soon after harvesting.
Growing your own strawberries is a tasty and rewarding adventure. Armed with these tips, you can grow a prolific and healthy strawberry crop all season long.
Total Time to Grow and Harvest Strawberries:
6-11 hours, depending on the type of garden and number of plants.
Select and prepare a planting site: 4-6 hours
Plant: 1-3 hours
Maintain: 1-2 hours per week
Effort rating on a scale of 1 to 4:
2 - Easy Does It
Always read the product label and follow the instructions carefully.
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