Get It Growing: Growing strawberries

What could be better than walking out to your garden and picking juicy, ripe strawberries for your cereal or ice cream? Or maybe just popping one right in your mouth?

Strawberries (Fragaria sp.) are one of the easiest (and tastiest) fruit crops that you can grow in your home garden. Here are a few tips to make sure your strawberry patch is berry-licious.

Three types of strawberries are available: June-bearers, everbearers and day-neutrals.

June-bearers have the largest and most flavorful berries. They produce only one bumper crop each summer around June or July.

Everbearers and day-neutrals produce smaller and fewer berries. Everbearers produce two crops (one in June and one in late summer or early fall) and day-neutrals produce berries throughout the summer.

Plant June-bearing varieties for high quality berries for freezing and preserving and everbearing or day-neutral varieties for an extended harvest of fresh strawberries. Select strawberry varieties suited to our climate. (See sidebar.)

Locate strawberries in an area with full sun, well-drained soil and good air circulation. Unlike blueberries, strawberries like only a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.2. Avoid planting in frost pockets (low-lying areas into which cold air drains) because strawberries bloom in spring and can be damaged by late frosts.

Plant strawberries as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked in early spring. Give plants sufficient room to grow. June-bearing strawberries produce lots of runners (“daughter plants”), so plant them about 15 inches apart in single rows that are 3-4 feet apart. Plant everbearers and day-neutrals 12 inches apart in two or three closely placed rows.

For June-bearers, position runners so that they fill in between the mother plants. When a density of five or six plants per square foot is achieved, remove subsequent runners from June-bearers. Remove all runners from everbearers and day-neutrals.

Fertilize new plants with a balanced fertilizer (one with equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) at 2, 6 and 10 weeks after planting. After the first year, fertilize your strawberries if plant growth is not good. Fertilize June-bearers in late July (after the harvest) and everbearers and day-neutrals a couple of times throughout the summer. Do not fertilize strawberries after early August.

Because strawberry plants have shallow roots, hand weed carefully. Mulch around the base of the plants to keep fruit from lying directly on the soil, conserve moisture and control weeds.

Water deeply but infrequently, about 1-2 inches each week. Use drip irrigation, if possible, to minimize wetting the fruit and foliage.

In late fall, cover plants with 3-5 inches of loose straw to protect them from the cold. Apply straw only after one or two hard freezes. In spring, pull the straw away from the plants when you see new leaves emerging. If frost threatens while plants are in bloom, cover plants with straw again or use floating row cover.

Strawberry plantings have a more limited life span than other berries. When productivity declines (after about three to five years) it is time to find a new planting site and start all over again.

Jeanette Stehr-Green is a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener.

Strawberry cultivars recommended for Western Washington:

June-bearing — Hood, Puget Summer, Puget Reliance, Rainier, Shuksan, Tillamook

Everbearing — Quinault, Fort Laramie

Day-neutral — Seascape, Tribute, Tristar

Fun Facts About Strawberries

Strawberries come not only in red but in white, yellow and purple. White and yellow strawberries lack (or are deficient in) a protein (Fragaria allergen A1) which is necessary for the production of anthocyanin, the pigment that turns the berry red as it ripens. Purple Wonder is a deep burgundy-colored strawberry, bred by the small fruits program at Cornell University; the variety was released in 2012 and is available through an exclusive licensing agreement with Burpee Co.

There is no such thing as a blue strawberry. Although seeds are advertised for sale online, there is no evidence that the resulting berries are blue. As suggested by the fact-checking resource Snopes, “If you encounter a photograph of a blue strawberry on the internet, it most likely grew out of Photoshop, not a seed.”

A strawberry’s seeds are on the outside. What we often refer to as “seeds” are actually tiny fruits called achenes with the seeds inside. Fruit growth and shape are largely determined by the number and position of achenes. On average, strawberries have 200 achenes. An uneven distribution or an insufficient number of achenes (due to cold or pest damage) will result in small, misshapen strawberries.

Unlike some fruits, strawberries don’t continue to ripen after being picked because the plants themselves provide ripening agents and sugars that sweeten the berries. Pick strawberries when they are fully red but before they turn dark red and lose their glossiness. Firm or hard berries or those with green and white spots are not fully ripe. The size of a strawberry at maturity depends on the variety.

Ever seen a strawberry with yellow flowers? You likely are looking at Potentilla indica (also known as mock strawberry). The mock strawberry is a close relative of the garden strawberry and has similar foliage and fruit. But the flowers are yellow, unlike the white or slightly pink flowers of true strawberries. Mock strawberries generally are considered inedible, although according to the FDA, there is no evidence that they are toxic.

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Honey Gingered Fruit Salad

From the California Department of Health

• Ingredients

1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 small banana, peeled and sliced

1 cup strawberries

1 cup seedless green grapes

1 cup nectarines, sliced

1 cup kiwifruit, peeled and sliced

Honey Ginger Sauce

⅓ cup orange juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

⅛ teaspoon ground ginger

• Directions

In a large bowl, combine fruit. In a small bowl, mix all honey ginger sauce ingredients until well blended. Pour honey ginger sauce over fruit and toss together. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and serve chilled. Makes 6 one-cup servings.

For more great recipes that use fresh garden produce, check out USDA’s SNAP-Ed Connection at https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/nutrition-education/recipes.

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