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, with harvest beginning one year after planting for junebears with Day nuetrals producing fruit the same year you plant. 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 strawberries (short-day) 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.
Everbearing strawberries (Day-neutral) produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall.
Day Neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season. Everbearing and day neutral strawberries work well in limited space. Caution is advised the flower gets too hot (above 85 F) or too cold (below 35 F) because the plant will not flower.
Prepare the Soil / Fertilization
It is helpful to test the soil for pH and fertility levels. Strawberries prefer a soil pH of 5.8 to 6.2.
In the spring of the planting year, apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at planting at the rate of one pound per 100 sq. ft. Cultivate the soil to incorporate the fertilizer and break up any clumps or clods several days before planting. Organic fertilizer sources such as compost, manures, sul-po-mag and rock phosphate may be used in place of synthetic fertilizers. Apply enough of these materials to deliver two pounds each of nitrogen, phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O) per 1,000 square feet. 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 during the months of March and April. 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.
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. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart and 3-1/2 feet between rows. Everbearing plants may be planted closer due to their smaller size.
Dig a large hole which will allow the roots to be able to spread out and point downward. Build a hill in the center of the hole and place the crown at soil level. Spread the roots downward on the hill. 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.
During the first growing season, remove flowers of June-bearing strawberries as soon as they appear. Removing the flowers promotes root and runner development thereby insuring a large crop for the following year.
For Everbearing and Day-neutral strawberries, remove the flowers until the end of June and then beginning in July; allow the flowers to remain to set fruit for a Summer/Fall harvest.
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.
Plant only varieties that are resistant to red stele and Verticillium root rots. 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.
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 one inch above the 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 10 or 12 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.
Irrigate the plants well, wetting the soil to a depth of six inches.
During the summer, runner plants will emerge and should be placed to fill out the row to the desired two foot width (above says 3-1/2 feet rows), similar to the planting year.
Keep the plants healthy and vigorous throughout the season by controlling weeds, maintaining the proper plant density and row width, and watering regularly.
Day-neutral strawberry beds can be carried over if they are healthy and weed-free, but yields from Day-neutral strawberries tend to decline dramatically in successive years.