Enjoying a handful of plump, juicy strawberries grown in your very own backyard is a real treat. Growing strawberries takes a little more care than some other popular fruits such as rhubarb and tomatoes, but with a few tips, even the beginning gardener can be successful at it.
Types of Plants
There are three basic types of strawberry plants that can be grown in northern gardens. June-bearing produce a large crop in late spring; ever-bearing produce one crop in late spring and one in early fall; and day-neutral strawberry plants produce fruit throughout the season, however the overall production is generally less than the June-bearing variety.
You should work with your local nursery to choose a cultivar that is appropriate for your area, or check the USDA gardening zone and order plants online.
Strawberry plants thrive in an area that receives 8 or more hours of full sun per day. Less sun and the plants will still produce berries, however there won’t be as many, nor will they be as large. The soil should be well-drained and free from soil-borne diseases so you’ll want to choose an area that was not recently used to grow tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, or peppers.
Soil should be slightly acidic (pH between 5-6). A raised bed garden is a great choice for growing strawberries, as it provides proper drainage and the soil can be amended as needed.
When planting strawberries in a raised bed garden, you can use the hill method, rather than the matted, or space matted system.
When using the hill method, trim off the runners from each plant and space them in rows 12″ apart. If using the matted or space matted system, plant them in rows 3 feet apart, spacing each plant 12″ from the next. The matted system requires no trimming of runners. However the space matted system requires that you trim the majority of the runners and affix them so that they are spaced 12″ apart from other plants.
When planting, trim away any dead roots and plant in a hole deep enough to cover the root system, but leave the top half of the crown of the plant above the soil level. Water well and pack the soil tightly around the middle of the crown.
Care and Harvest
The first year, blossoms should be removed from June-bearing plants to encourage growth of the root system and runners. This will produce a more abundant crop of berries the following year. Ever-bearing and day-neutral plants should have their blossoms removed up until the end of June for fruit production in early to late fall.
To encourage an abundance of fruit, strawberry plants need to be watered regularly, but should never sit in water. They should also be well fertilized. If you prefer an organic fertilizer, bone meal and blood meal work well and should be applied monthly throughout the growing season. A regular fertilizer of 10-10-10 at the beginning of the season is another option.
Keeping Pests Away
Strawberry plants are not prone to a lot of disease. However you may want to choose a variety that is certified to be resistant to Verticillium Wilt, since plants that are infected with this must be destroyed.
To protect plants from birds, the strawberries can be covered with bird netting. If rabbits and deer are prevalent in your area, you may also want to install a wire mesh fence around the perimeter of your strawberry patch to keep them from nibbling (or completely destroying) the plants.
At the end of the season, plants should be trimmed of dead foliage and plants should be thinned if runners were allowed to spread. Keep the strawberries well watered until the ground freezes and then cover with mulch to protect them during the winter months.
If proper care is given, you may enjoy an abundance of fresh strawberries for 3-4 years before replacing the plants with fresh stock.