Strawberries are a popular fruit for home gardeners. The plants are easy to grow and produce a bounty of fruit for fresh eating, desserts, and preserves. A well-tended strawberry patch can produce fruit for many years. Taking time to prepare a good planting area will ensure the best results.
How to Plant Strawberries
For best results, strawberry plants should go into the ground in early spring, as soon as any danger of frost has passed. Choose a planting area with fertile, well-drained soil and no grass or weeds. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12” and add some all-purpose fertilizer. Rake the area smooth, then dig a hole for each plant, spacing them 12” apart. Make the holes large enough so the roots fit inside without bending or crowding.
Note that planting depth is very important for strawberries. To ensure good fruit production, the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the stem) must be positioned at or just slightly below the soil surface. Firm the soil around the roots and water well. After planting, check the soil level weekly for the first month to make sure the crown of the plant is still correctly positioned. If adjustments are necessary, gently reposition the plant.
Caring for Strawberries
Strawberries grow best when they get 1” of water or rain per week. Drip irrigation is the best option because it waters the roots rather than the foliage. Keeping the foliage as dry as possible will minimize disease problems.
Strawberries perform poorly if they must compete with weeds. Mulching around the plants with straw or dry leaves will help suppress weed growth, retain moisture in the soil and keep the berries clean.
The first year, you should pinch off most of the buds and allow just a few berries to mature. This will give you more berries next year. Toward the end of the summer, the plants may produce offsets (runners). You can use some of these “daughter” plants to fill in the row but it’s important to avoid crowding. For best production, your strawberry bed should have no more than 5 plants per square foot.
The second year, after the early summer picking season is over, use garden scissors or hedge shears to cut back the foliage to 3” high. Take care not to damage the crown. After cutting back, remove the foliage to minimize disease problems. Side dress the plants with all-purpose fertilizer (following fertilizer package directions) and water as needed to encourage healthy growth for the rest of the summer. Eventually, the original “mother” plants will decline and can be removed. By this time, the daughter plants will be ready to take over production.
Honeoye is a midseason strawberry (June) that’s excellent for fresh eating and freezing. It was bred by Cornell and has been a top strawberry variety for more than 30 years.
Sequoia is an early-maturing, summer-bearing variety, developed by the University of California. It produces an abundance of extra-sweet berries with a long, conical shape.
All Star is a midseason strawberry (June) with large, glossy, bright red berries that are exceptionally sweet. Widely adapted and disease resistant.
Ozark Beauty is an everbearing strawberry, which means it produces a good-size early summer harvest and then continues to fruit until the first frost. Berries are sweet and delicious.