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.