Strawberries are an excellent crop for both home gardeners and commercial farmers. With proper care, strawberry beds can produce good crops for three to five years. An initial planting of 100 plants should provide enough berries for a family of four, with surplus to freeze or make preserves.
Where to Plant Strawberries
Choose your planting site carefully. The site should receive full sunlight and have a gradual slope. Strawberries grow best in deep, sandy loam soil that is rich in organic matter and drains well. Avoid areas that remain wet late into the spring. This will prevent frost injury by allowing cold air to drain away from the plants.
Do not plant strawberries in areas where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant have been grown within the past four years. These vegetables carry the root rot fungus Verticillium, which also attacks strawberries. In addition, do not plant strawberries into recently plowed grass sod areas which can lead to devastating weed problems and damage by white grubs, a common turf pest that feeds on strawberry roots.
You should have easy access to water. Irrigation is important for good plant growth during dry periods and prevents frost injury in the spring.
Choose the Correct Strawberry Plant
It is best to plant two or more varieties. Performance will vary according to the conditions at each site. Try new varieties in small trial plantings, next to a variety with which you are familiar. Strawberry plants are sold either as bare root or in pots. Bare root cost a fraction of the cost of fully potted plants. When choosing your plants to grow, select plants with large crowns which have healthy, light colored roots.
June-bearing or Short Day: Length-of-day sensitive, these varieties produce buds in the autumn, flowers and fruits the following spring and summer, runners during the long days of summer. June Bearers are classified as early, mid-season and late varieties and have the ability to produce a large crop with large fruit each year during a 2 - 3 week period in the spring beginning in early summer.
Day-Neutral: Insensitive to day length, these varieties produce buds, fruits and runners continuously if temperature remains between 35 and 85. Production is less than that of June-bearers. The advantage in growing these types along with the June-bearers is that you can harvest fruit for most of the growing season.
Everbearing: These varieties form buds during the long days of summer and the short days of autumn. The summer-formed buds flower and fruit in autumn, and the autumn-formed buds fruit the following spring. Everbearing are commonly classified with Day-Neutral varieties.
Everbearing and day neutral strawberries work well in limited space.
Prepare the Soil / Fertilization
It is helpful to test the soil for pH and fertility levels. Strawberries prefer a soil pH of 6.2-6.8 Strawberries do best in well drained sandy loam soil.
In the spring of the planting year, apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at planting at the rate of one half pound per 100 sq. ft. Cultivate the soil to incorporate the fertilizer and break up any clumps or clods 2 to 3 weeks prior to planting. Organic fertilizer sources such as compost, manures, sul-po-mag and rock phosphate may be used in place of synthetic fertilizers. Fertilize again after renovation of June bearers or second harvest of day neutrals and everbearing types. Do not over fertilizer or you will have excessive leaf growth and poor flowering. In colder climates, do not fertilize strawberries late in the season because this will cause new growth that will be damaged by frost.
When to Plant
Plant strawberries as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, after your last hard frost. Do not work the soil if it is wet. Wait a few days until it dries. Spring planting will allow the plants to become well established before temperature rises in the summer. Planting early does not always help getting an early crop. If you are planting when there is still danger of frost your plants will "sit" until it warms up. This can lead to die off and disease creating a unhealthy plant. Allowing plants to start in warmer conditions creates a healthier, happier plant that will last throughout the year.
If you are not ready to plant your strawberries when they arrive, store the plants in a refrigerator for a few days, keeping them damp (but not soggy). Rehydrate the plants a few minutes before planting by placing the plants in a bucket of water.
How to Plant
It is best to plant strawberries on a cloudy day or during the late afternoon.
– Planted in a matted-row system, set plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row (or raised bed), with 3 to 4 feet between rows. Allow the runners that form from the “mother” plants to develop and root by sweeping early-formed runners into the row, about 6” apart, they will form a matted row 18
inches wide. Keep the remaining 1.5 to 2 feet between rows clear by cutting off late-formed runners that grow into the aisle or off the edge of the raised bed.
Day Neutral and Everbearing plants are often planted in a double row system. On a raised bed, planted 8-12” apart in a double row. Keep the remaining 1.5 to 2 feet between rows clear by cutting off runners that grow into the aisle or off the edge of the raised bed.
Strawberry planting hole: Dig a large hole which will allow the roots to be able to spread out and point downward. Bury the roots and be careful to keep the soil no higher than halfway up the crown. Do not cover the crown with soil. The roots should point straight down and should not be bent or form a “J” shape in the planting hole.
After four or five weeks, the plants will produce runners and new daughter plants.
Strawberries require 1-2 inches of water per week for ideal growth. Irrigate plants regularly to insure optimum growth. Water is especially important while the fruit is forming, from early bloom to the end of harvest. To minimize berry spoilage, drip irrigation systems are recommended for strawberry plants.
Insect and Disease Control
Strawberries are subject to attack by fungus diseases, such as root rots and gray mold, and several types of insects, including tarnished plant bugs and strawberry bud weevils, but many problems can be prevented with proper planning and care.
All strawberry varieties are prone to diseases caused by overly moist soil conditions and overcrowding. Soil must be kept loose and well drained, plants must be properly spaced and ripe or moldy fruit picked daily.
Discourage insect pests by keeping the planting weed-free. Prevent gray mold by keeping the plant rows narrow to improve air circulation and mulching between rows.
Plants generally grow 6"- 8" tall and 12" across. Yield under the best of conditions is about a basket per plant per season. Pick ripe strawberries by pinching through the stem above the fruit. Never pull on the berry itself. Strawberries will last several days in the refrigerator.
June Bearing varieties. Do not renovate Day Neutrals or Ever bearing varieties. Do not renovate in the planting year.
Renovation is the post-harvest chore of maintaining the June-bearing strawberry plant and is an important part of strawberry care. To insure good fruit production for 3-4 years, a matted row system should be renovated every year immediately after harvest.
The first step is to mow the old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about 1-2” above the crowns. Be careful not to cut or injure crowns. Rake the leaves and if disease-free, compost or incorporate into the soil. Fertilize with one pound of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Next, narrow the plant rows to a strip of 18 inches wide with a roto-tiller or spade, and spread a light, one-half to one-inch layer of soil over the remaining plants, avoid burying the crowns. If necessary, remove weaker plants, leaving only the most vigorous and healthy.
Keep the plants healthy and vigorous throughout the season by controlling weeds, maintaining the proper plant density and row width, and watering regularly.