Everybody likes strawberries, and it’s fun to grow them. To succeed you must be patient, since strawberry plantings take a year to establish. First, you must understand the difference between June-bearing, “everbearing”, and “day neutral” strawberries, since each of these takes different care.
June-bearing strawberries produce a single, large crop per year during a 2 – 3 week period in the spring. They have the largest fruits. Chandler and Allstar are ideal June-bearing varieties. They will produce a heavy crop for up to five years if well maintained, starting the second year.
“Everbearing” strawberries produce the same amount per plant, divided into several “bursts” of production. “Day neutral” strawberries spread the harvest over the entire season until frost. This means that to have enough berries at any one time you’ll need two or three times as many plants. Their berries tend to be smaller than June-bearing strawberries, and the plants only produce for one to two years.
All three types need the same growing conditions: full sun, well-drained acid soil, protection from wind and spring frosts, and regular watering. It’s best to start with new garden beds that have been cleared of weeds beforehand. Gardens previously used for strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant or peppers could harbor pests and diseases. Strawberries are also very sensitive to weed killer residue in the soil. Too much wind prevents proper pollination.
We recommend raised beds at least 8 inches deep, filled with good quality potting soil or finely shredded pine bark. Each plant needs at least one square foot of space. Mulching with pine bark prevents weeds and builds the soil. Raised beds help protect from frost and are easier to cover with netting to keep birds and rodents out. Strawberry roots are very sensitive to hoeing, so using mulch is a better way to control weeds.
The best times to plant are early spring or late summer. It’s very important not to plant too deep; plant crowns should show above the soil but not stick up too far. Water two or three times a week, soaking well every few days instead of sprinkling every day, particularly in the beginning or during drought. Wait until the new plants start putting out “runners” before you fertilize, to avoid burning your plants. Feed them with one pound of Holly Tone per 100 square feet, each month until fall every year. Mulch for winter protection, and protect from spring frosts once the plants start to leaf out each year.
You can expect a quart of berries per plant each season from established plants, so you should plant at least six June-bearing plants per family member, or at least 12 everbearing or day-neutral plants.
Caring for June Bearing Strawberries
After planting you should pinch off all the flower buds for the first year, so the plant can build itself up to maximum potential in future years. When “runners” form, pinch off all but 3 or 4. Help them root by lightly pressing the plantlets into the ground and tamping the soil around them. Pinch off any additional runners that form during the season.
After the harvest you should “’renovate” June-bearing strawberries to keep plants healthy and productive over the years. As soon as all the berries have been harvested, mow off the leaves using a lawn mower set at the highest setting. Take care not to bite into the base of the plants. Till or hoe around each clump to remove excess plants, leaving 3-5 inches around every plant. Fertilize, and water well until new leaves form. You can expect a well-managed strawberry bed to last 3-5 years.
Everbearing and Day Neutral Strawberries
Everbearing strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Everbearing or day neutral plants do not send out many runners, so you don’t need to renovate them. Make sure you water well during hot weather; the plants may “rest” but will produce again if you take care of them.
Pinch out all the flowers for 6 weeks after setting out your plants, and remove all the runners during the first year to allow the plants to get established. You can then let the plants set fruit from midsummer through October. You can expect a bed of day-neutral plants to be productive for one to two years.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Farm Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. More information is available online at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.