Who doesn’t like fresh strawberries? Or strawberry-rhubarb pie? Or strawberries in your smoothie? Or strawberry preserves on toast? Strawberries start to show up in large quantities at the grocery store this time of year, but it’s not hard to create your own strawberry patch.
If you’ve read previous articles, you’ve already heard the rallying cry of adding organic material to your garden. But really, for strawberries, go crazy. They do best in rich, loamy soil and hefty additions of compost are key. In preparing your site, be sure to add plenty prior to planting. Also add a 1-2” layer in the each year in the fall over the plants.
First though, you’ll have to make a choice on where to plant. All varieties need at least 8 hours of full sun daily to produce at their best. Then decide on what form you’ll plant, such as a clump or in rows, or perhaps using a fancy form available commercially. A word to the wise: the best way to keep your patch productive for many years is being able to control the runners and thin them out periodically. This may influence how you decide to plant.
As far as what kind to plant, it’s decision time again. There are two main groupings for perennial strawberries: June-bearing and everbearing. As you’ve likely guessed, June-bearing has a short production season, lasting 2-3 weeks early in the summer. This is helpful if you plan on making batches of preserves and want a hefty amount in a short time period. Everbearing will produce steadily from early summer until the first fall frost. That works well if you want a few to add to your morning bowl of cereal throughout the summer.
If you don’t have access to a yard, you can still have fresh strawberries all summer long. The ‘berri basket’ variety was cultivated to excel in pots. They are compact plants with vigorous production. Planting them in hanging pots makes for very easy harvesting- no bending over!
General tips for keeping your patch healthy and productive:
· Birds love strawberries too, so put netting over your plants to keep them away. If you don’t, rest assured that you won’t get any of the fruits of your labor. Boo!
· Help the plants be stronger by pinching off the blossoms for the first season. That way the plant turns its energy into producing roots instead of fruit.
· Pick rotted fruit- otherwise makes it possible for nematodes and other insects as well as diseases to take root.
· It’s not that plants get too old, it’s that the plants are heavy feeders and also heavy producers of runners that create more plants. If runners aren’t controlled, what started as well-spaced area transitions into a mat of plants competing for nutrients.
· Planting in rows makes for easier control in the long run. Here is a great video on revitalizing an older, overgrown strawberry patch planted in rows.
There you have it! This time of year is perfect for establishing a strawberry patch, as most varieties are very tolerant of frost. Get them in the ground soon, and you could be making pies this summer.