Grow the Best Strawberries
Who doesn’t love fresh strawberries on their morning cereal? Strawberries aren’t hard to grow if you get them off to a good start and keep a close eye on them.
Did you know your local gardening center or nursery sells strawberry plants that are perfect for your area? There are three types: June-bearing, ever-bearing and day-neutral.
June-bearing strawberry plants produce one crop in June.
Ever-bearing plants produce two or three crops during the growing season, but they aren’t as hardy as day-neutrals.
Day-neutrals, which were developed from ever-bearing plants, produce berries continually all summer and into the fall.
Day-neutrals are ever-bearing, but not all ever-bearing are day-neutral. Blossoms appear about six weeks after planting all three types.
Growing Strawberries: Where to Start
Whether you are planning an in-ground berry patch or will use flower boxes, space your plants about two feet apart. This is important. Sandy soil or loose, loamy potting mix is best.
If you’d rather grow in containers, pots need to be at least 18 inches in diameter with drainage holes, a plant saucer and no more than two plants per pot. Strawberries have shallow roots, so don’t plant deeper than the tops of the roots.
Select a bedding site or place containers in an area with good air circulation, all-day sun and protection from the possibility of late spring frost.
Space plants so they dry quickly after rainfall or watering. Never water from above. Always use a drip hose.
Plant on an overcast day to prevent roots from drying out, mulch with two to three inches of dry straw to keep down weeds, and use light-colored pots to control the soil temperature and regulate moisture.
Maintaining Your Strawberry Plants Throughout the Season
During the growing season, wet the soil to a depth of about 6 in. during each watering. In sandy soil and during hot weather, plants may need more water.
A good way to check moisture is to stick your finger into the soil near a plant. If any soil sticks to your finger, hold off on watering, and then refill your test hole. Air spaces aren’t good.
Next, don’t even think about fertilizing in the spring; doing so promotes too much leaf growth, which can increase the occurrence of gray mold.
A gray mold infestation can wipe out all your berries. It is caused by a fungus and is the most damaging strawberry disease, ruining flowers, leaves and berries.
A soft, light brownish-gray growth usually first appears at the berry cap and spreads quickly if unchecked. Remove all affected parts and discard in the trash—not on your compost pile.
Gray mold is most common during prolonged cool weather. Berries resting on damp soil are soon infected. The mold spreads fast when berries are ripening and turning red.
This is the reason for wide spacing between plants, pruning excess leaves for good airflow, drip hose watering, and only working with plants when they’re dry. Standing water for even one day is harmful.
Sometimes gray mold doesn’t develop until your berries are in the fridge. It’s much easier to prevent gray mold with the suggested precautions than it is to get rid of it once it has started.
Pick berries every day, especially during wet and hot spells, removing any damaged leaves and berries as you go.
When to Fertilize Strawberry Plants
Fertilize dry plants in late summer. Do so right after the last berries are harvested. This will keep your plants healthy to withstand diseases and to promote fall growth for next year’s crop.
Work 10-10-10 commercial fertilizer according to directions around the plants, not on them, careful not to disturb the roots. Thoroughly composted horse manure will delight organic gardeners with its results come spring.
Strawberry Harvesting Tips
- When picking your berries, avoid any with large white or green areas.
- Don’t wash before refrigerating and leave the green caps on.
- Wash under a soft spray of cool water to remove sand and soil particles.
- Refrigerate unwashed berries within two hours of picking.
- Use within a few days after they go in the fridge.
- Damaged and sliced berries spoil quicker than whole ones.
- Refrigerate in plastic bags or dry, airtight containers.
After the Final Strawberry Harvest
You can keep your June-bearing plants producing for several seasons by tending to them after their final harvest. This means removing all the old leaves with a hedge clipper or hand pruner. Be careful not to damage the crowns.
Ever-bearing varieties don’t require this step, so don’t remove any of their leaves.
At the end of the season, remove all plants that aren’t productive or don’t look healthy or vigorous.
If you plan to replant your whole berry patch, start it in another location, as gray mold overwinters in old strawberry leaves and mummified berries.
So what’s YOUR favorite way to enjoy fresh strawberries?
Written by Diane Young