By Leah Allen
Let’s talk about strawberries: there is a romantic nostalgia surrounding them. Their sweet red goodness signals summer. Strawberries are the very picture of warm weather along with sprinklers, 4th of July, and red and white checkered tablecloths. With so many ways to enjoy strawberries these days, whether in jams, cakes, smoothies, or in a fruit salsa, there is always a reason to grow these wonderful little iconic marvels of childhood summers past.
Strawberries, (Fragaria spp.), are edible short lived perennial plants living 2-3 years. They can be grown in raised beds, in ground gardens, and in containers. Strawberries love full sun and well drained slightly acidic soil. They need 8-10 hours of direct sun to produce the most bountiful crop. Strawberry plants grown in partial shade will produce less fruit.
Strawberries are sprawling plants that need plenty of room for their runners or “daughters”. You can start planting strawberries in early spring when the soil becomes workable. Strawberry plants can be planted in garden beds or raised beds 12”- 18” apart in both directions. Strawberries grown in containers with good quality potting soil and adequate drainage can be planted a little closer together. Growing strawberries in containers will require more watering as they dry up more quickly, however it’s noteworthy that soil should never be soggy, only slightly damp never dry. Water soil about 1”/week avoiding watering the leaves. Leaves, flowers, and fruits must be exposed to light and fresh air for best results.
When you plant strawberries, DON’T BURY THE CROWN! The roots should be covered and the crown of the plant (where leaves stem off) should be right at soil surface. If buried lower than the surface, it will rot. Strawberry plants will benefit from a good dose of fertilizer when first planting.
Mulching strawberries with straw or other natural mulch will lock in moisture and keep the fruit off the soil and clean. Strawberries that lay on soil are more susceptible to damage and rot. It’s rumored that strawberries got their name from being mulched with straw, as it kept the fruit dry and looking beautiful.
Strawberries can be broken down in three groups: June-bearing, ever-bearing, and day neutral.
June-bearing strawberries will bear large berries all at once for up to three weeks. They produce buds in the Fall, flowers and fruits the following June. June’s full moon is called the Strawberry Moon because the Farmers Almanac reports that when the moon was full, it signaled it was time to harvest the ripening fruit! They grow best in raised beds where they have plenty of room to sprawl. It will take one year to get fruit and all “runners” should be eliminated to send more energy back into the mother plant. It’s recommended that for harvesting for preserves or any baked goods, June- bearing is the type of strawberries you want.
Ever-bearing and Day-neutral strawberries bloom and produce a sizable crop of smaller berries in Spring, again lightly throughout the summer and another crop in Fall. They send out less runners than the June-bearers, making them more manageable for the home garden. This group of strawberries is perfect for snacking and grazing in the garden.
Strawberry flowers must be visited by bees and other pollinating insects before they can set fruit and 4-6 weeks after the initial visit, it’s harvest time!
Peak strawberry picking time is when they just turn red and are enjoyed soon after picking. You can refrigerate them, but it does impair their aroma and taste, so it’s best to use or eat them sooner than later.
FOREWARNING- slugs chew holes and birds love to steal strawberries so protecting them with lightweight bird netting is highly recommended.
Strawberries should be fun to grow! There’s nothing like the experience of picking your own from your own garden; it’s a special kind of magical!
Admittedly, any kind of gardening can be frustrating. Here are some other resources to help if you have any other questions! Happy planting!
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