After ‘enjoying' a container of imported, tasteless strawberries that I bought at the supermarket this past week (Alas, I was lured in by the weekly special!), I realized how lucky we are to live in a region that can grow such luscious berries. Strawberries offer one of the earliest harvests of the season and with proper variety selection, gardeners can enjoy months of sweet homegrown fruits. Strawberry plants thrive when grown in garden beds, but those with limited space can also grow them successfully in containers.
Generally strawberries are divided into one of three categories - June-bearing, ever-bearing or day-neutral. June-bearing plants offer a single, but sizable crop for about three weeks each June. The fruits are also large and can be enjoyed for an extended period if a mix of early, mid-season and late varieties are planted. June-bearing strawberries produce a lot of runners, which are above ground stems that form a new plant where they touch the soil. To get more plants, just peg down the runners. They won't be quite as productive as the mother plants, but you'll still get a decent harvest.
Ever-bearing strawberries offer two to three decent crops each season from spring through early autumn. The berries are not quite as large as those from June-bearing plants, but the harvest season is much longer. Another difference is that they don't produce very many runners. Day-neutral strawberries offer a continual harvest from June through frost and their yield can meet or exceed that of June-bearing varieties. They also produce few runners and unlike June-bearing or ever-bearing, can be harvested that first year.
When deciding where to plant your strawberries, look for site that offers at least six hours of sunlight per day and has well drained, decent soil. Those with clay can raise the level of their beds by six-inches or more to increase drainage. A slightly acidic pH is also ideal. Avoid any parts of the garden where members of the tomato family have recently grown - tomatoes, eggplants, peppers or potoatoes - as they share diseases.
Opt for several varieties of strawberries with a mixture of June-bearing and ever-bearing or day-neutral to ensure a continual supply of homegrown strawberries. One of the easiest planting methods for June-bearing types is the ‘matted row system'. In this system, the plants are placed 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. This leaves plenty of room for the runners and space for care and harvesting. Remove any flowers that appear that first year to let the plants establish. Spread the runners around each plant as they develop to fill in the space.
Day-neutral and ever-bearing strawberries are often grown in a hill system where soil is piled in a continual ridge that is 8 inches high and about 2-feet wide. Make it as long as your garden space allows. The 2-foot wide hill will accommodate a double row of strawberry plants, but stagger them so that each has plenty of room to grow. The first year, remove all runners and flowers until early July and then allow them to produce berries.
Mulch the space between your strawberry rows to suppress weeds, prevent disease issues and keep developing berries clean. After four years, yields will decline considerably and common diseases will most likely appear. Start fresh in a new spot.
Fun Ideas for Strawberries:
Pot up a hanging basket with an everbearing or day-neutral variety.
Edge the front of your shrub or perennial border with a low border of strawberry plants for a sweet treat.
Plant a traditional strawberry pot with a mixture of June-bearing and everbearing plants. Overwinter inside an unheated garage or basement for years of juicy berries.
Niki Jabbour is the author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award winner) and host of The Weekend Gardener - Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Atlantic time on News 95.7 FM, News 91.9 FM and News 88.9 FM