A true taste of summer. Strawberries are a must have in all home gardens. Whether you are looking to plant out a field or just have a designated bed in your home garden. Follow this complete growing guide to reap a fruitful harvest.
To choose to add strawberries to your growing operation, the first consideration we have to make is our purchasing source along with how the plants will come to us. Most often, you have two options when purchasing strawberry plants. They are either sold as plant starts or bare root plants.
How To Buy Strawberry Plants
Plant starts are potted up into soil and typically have thriving green foliage. Bare root plants, on the other hand, are sold as they sound - without soil. Bare roots arrive to you in their dormant stage and will not be woken up until you give them growing conditions, preferably by planting them out into your garden bed.
There are pros and cons to both options. Typically when purchasing strawberry plants you are unable to purchase them until closer to your last frost date. Right off the bat they are getting a shorter amount of time in the ground. Bare root plants can be planted out into your garden beds as soon as your ground is workable. The plant will awaken as Mother Nature turns Winter into Spring.
Choosing Your Varieties
When shopping for strawberries you will find the terms June-baring, Ever-baring & Day Neutral. Let's break those down.
known for their berry size and the large single harvest that spans most of June! These varieties are great to grow with preservation in mind. Having your whole harvest come in over a short period of time, keeps everything fresh for you to can or freeze your harvest. June-baring plants are also known for producing many runners each year. With the compound affect you will be swimming in strawberry plants even after a year or two.
Maintenance is a more time consuming compared to the other categories specifically due to the amount of runners each mother plant will put off. During the season mother plants have been known to put off between 7-12 runners each! You will want to be mindful to stay on top of trimming and transplanting runners to avoid strawberries taking over your whole garden. But really that doesn't sound too bad! :)
This name makes it sound like you will have strawberries ripe all year long, but unfortunately that is not the case. Ever-baring varieties have two medium sized harvest dates. They will have a harvest in early summer and again a smaller harvest in the fall each year. The size of ever-baring strawberries is a little smaller than the jumbo June-baring berries but still plenty substantial get to get a great harvest from!
The maintenance for Ever-baring plants isn't quite the burden compared to June-baring. You will still want to be on top of trimming and transplanting runners. Each mother plant will give off between 3-5 runners during the growing season making it a bit more bearable.
This is where many growers get a bit confused. The production pattern of Day Neutral plants makes me think Ever-baring because berries are ripe from late Spring through Fall! The name is has to be one of our must remember gardening facts! Day Neutral plants do put off the smallest berries in the bunch but they are not shy on flavor! You'll have a sweet treat any day of the summer.
Maintenance for Day Neutral plants is a breeze. These varieties do not put off many runners at all. Sure it makes it so you don't end of with 3-12x the amount of plants you started with, but it does make managing them so easy. At the end of each season you can promote root growth on the few runners you have and continue filling in your bed!
My suggestion is to grow a combination of them all! This way you are always able to harvest fresh berries from your garden. You'll have small one for snacking, medium berries for desserts and large berries to cover in chocolate or freeze for a fresh winter treat!
Prep Your Beds
Prior to your plants arrive, I encourage you to have your growing area prepped and ready to plant into as soon as your order arrives to avoid any potential rotting in your storage.
As we encourage with all garden beds, be sure to lightly turn in fresh organic matter at the beginning of ever season. Starting your plants off on the right foot, organic matter will give the new roots nutrients to be used as they come out of dormancy. Strawberry plants like their soil pH to be between 6 - 6.5 but can survive in soil ranging from 5.5-7.0. Ensure your soil is loose and well draining prior to planting your strawberry stolons.
As you are planing out your garden, it is good practice to stagger your strawberry beds to ensure a consistent harvest. I love to have two strawberry beds going at once. To start that from the beginning I had to leave one bed potentially empty so that I had space to plant my runners given off the mother plant throughout the growing season. Of course, space that is not planted will not produce fruit for you. In your second bed that you plan to put strawberries into, plant beans for the growing season.
tip: Bush beans are a great way to utilize that space. As you may know, beans develop nodules on their root systems that store nitrogen. Strawberries thrive off nitrogen! Once your bean season is over leave the roots in the ground to release that nitrogen making it available for your newly planted strawberry runners!
Bare Root Strawberry Anatomy
Your plants have arrived! Take a moment to learn the parts of your bare root plant. As shown above, the mother plant is made up of three main parts: foliage, crown and roots. Due to the fact that these plants are dormant, the foliage you find on the crow will most often be dull or minimal in the first place. As the stolon becomes established it will throw off plenty of vibrant foliage.
Now that your plants have arrived, you should try to get them planted into your freshly amended bed as soon as possible. If by chance you are unable to plant them right away, just be sure to store them properly until you can. Keep them in a cool dark environment and check on them often to ensure the roots are not drying out too much. Misting the roots is good practice to ensure viability.
Into The Ground They Go
Prior to planting, take your bare root plants and submerge the roots in water to hydrate the plant. This process takes about 30 minutes. Once you remove the plants from the water you are going to trim off a portion of the root length. Trimming the roots will serve more than one purpose. If the roots have started to shrivel or rot, cutting off the excess will help the healthy portion to remain viable. Trimming roots also promotes rapid root growth, which helps our plants to establish quickly.
Spacing for strawberry plants is between 12-18" most often leaning toward the further distance. For each hole, you will want to dig down between 6-8" and about two times as wide as the crown. Place the plant into the hole splaying out the roots to avoid entanglement. A trick I use is to place a mound in the bottom of your hole to set the crown of your plant on letting the roots fall to the side. As you back fill, be sure to leave the crown exposed. Covering the crown can lead to crown rot, killing the plant. Leaving the crown exposed also is a good marker to know where your plants are located, minimizing the potential for damage by stepping on them.
Let Them Grow
The first year of your strawberry plants is crucial. You want this time to be focused on producing roots and strengthening the plant. Pinching off first year buds is also another way to ensure a heavy crop in years to come. As the plant grows you will be gifted new plants from each mother in the form of runner plants spread along the stolon. A good way to conceptualize how these new babies thrive is to think of the stolon as an umbilical cord. The mother plant will supply all nutrients needed to the runner plants up until the stolon is severed.
While connected to the mother plant, you are able to place strawberry runners directly where you'd like them in your beds. Once the new plants take strong roots you can cut the stolon since the baby is now able to take up nutrients on it's own. Be sure to clean up dead stolon at the beginning and/or end of each season to avoid your bed becoming matted with debris.
A fresh clean bed will help you yield a bounty of fresh strawberries!
- Halley @MIgardener
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