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How to Grow Strawberries

Tips and instructions on growing strawberries in your home garden.

Strawberries are the first fruits to ripen in the spring and are grown in every state in the United States and every province of Canada. They are indigenous to every major continent except Africa, Australia and the island of New Zealand. Strawberries are easy to grow and nutritious. They are the perfect plant to help you child get a taste of gardening, as long as they aren’t allergic!

The berries that are grown today in the U.S. have been developed from the union of species found in North and South America. Wild strawberries were found over much of Europe as early as the year 70 B.C. The European species produce fruit of good quality and were especially notable for their aroma, but the fruit was small and the production was light. When the colonists landed in America they were amazed at the vigor, productivity and size of the native American strawberry plants. This is the species

Fragaria virginiana. Another American species, F. chiloensis, is found along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Calif. and along the coast of Chile. The cultivated strawberry that is grown today is a hybrid of these 2 American species.

Many varieties are adapted to a wide area, but specific varieties must be grown in the southern areas of the country, while others are best adapted to more northern areas. Climatic conditions influence the strawberry flavor and production more than other fruit plants. For this reason consult your local agricultural college or horticultural society for a listing of the best strawberry varieties for your area. Most growers will also only ships plants suited to your growing location and websites will offer suggestions for plants.

Planting Tips

Avoid planting in soils where previous crops have included strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants or peppers. it is best to wait several years before planting in such an area in the garden, since a soil-borne disease called verticillium wilt often attacks these vegetables and also is damaging to strawberries.

Do not mulch using materials like decayed or wet leaves that tend to mat down and can smother plants.

Types

June Bearing - These strawberries produce one large crop of fruit during a 2 - 3 week period in the spring. June bearers are the common variety, producing a single period of flowers and numerous runners. They are classified into early, mid-season and late varieties. The largest fruits are generally from June bearing varieties.

Everbearing – These strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Everbearing plants do not send out many runners and the fruits tend to be slightly smaller.

The Everbearing Strawberry differs somewhat from the ordinary single-crop variety. Since they produce very few runners, they can be set in 3- or 4-row beds with plants spaced 1 ft. apart in each direction. There should be a space of at least 2 ft. between the beds. All of the blossoms should be removed as they are produced on the newly set plants until about July 15. Removing these first blossoms permits the plants to grow vigorously and a larger fall crop is produced from blossoms which appear during the late summer. The soil should be kept weed-free and peat moss, wood chips and pine needles are excellent mulches. All runners should be removed as they appear throughout the life of the plantings. In areas where the summers are extremely hot and dry the everbearing varieties will not do well. The “climbing” Strawberry is an everbearing type and is often trained to a trellis. It does not have the ability to attach itself to a trellis since it does not have tendrils like a grape plant and

Day Neutral – This strawberry will produce fruit throughout the growing season and these plants produce few runners. Everbearing and day neutral strawberries are a good choice when space is limited, but again the fruits are usually smaller than June bearers.

General Growing Instructions

Planting

Early spring planting has always been recommended for strawberries. During recent years, however, cold storage plants have become available and these can be planted later in the spring and even in early summer. Storage plants are held at 30 dF in a dormant condition in polyethylene bags and remain in excellent condition as late as early summer.

Freshly dug strawberry plants can be planted in the home garden in late summer, but some special care is required. Watering is extremely important during this time of the year and the soil must not be permitted to dry out. Plants are not generally available from nurseries in late August so you need to use plants from the garden. An excellent method for obtaining good plants is to place flower pots or cans in the soil beneath runner plants during June and July and let them root in the pot or can. These “potted’’

plants will grow large and can be cut loose from the mother plant and removed to the new location with more success than bare root plants.

Strawberries require full sunshine to grow well and produce a good crop. They will not tolerate a shady location.

In setting out the strawberry plant it is extremely important that the roots be spread out in the soil and not jammed into a small hole. Unless the roots are spread out the plants will not grow properly. The crown of the plant should be kept above the soil level. In most areas a fertilizer solution is used at the time of planting.

Strawberries that produce few runner plants may be planted in double-row beds with the plants about a foot apart in both directions. The runner plants that do develop should be removed during the growing season, or a few may be left to develop into fruit-producing plants. Those varieties that produce many runners, and these include most varieties, are best grown in a single plant row with plants spaced about 2 ft. apart in the row.

Blossom Removal

Soon after plants are established and glowing they will produce blossoms. These should be removed so that the plant will grow vigorously and produce runner plants. If fruit is permitted to grow and ripen on the newly set plant, the growth of the plant is retarded and runner plants are produced later in the season. Late formed runner plants are as productive as early formed ones.

Runner Thinning

As the runners begin to grow from the mother plant, they should be spaced around the mother plant similar to the spokes in a wheel. It is best that each runner plant be 3 4 in. apart from every other runner plant. After a sufficient number of runner plants have been placed and the row is filled with plants to a width of 2 3 ft., the additional runner plants should be removed and destroyed. This system is called a matted row, in comparison with the single—plant bed.

Fertilization

The strawberry plant is shallow rooted and must be fertilized during the growing season to keep it vigorous. Plants should be well fertilized before September prior to the period of fruit-bud initiation. During the second year when the fruit crop is developing, the plants also require some nitrogen, especially in the sandy soils. Be careful not to use excessive amounts of fertilizer in the spring of the fruiting year, because this can result in heavy foliage, fruit rot and soft berries of poor quality. The strawberry plant suffers greatly from lack of water, especially during the blossoming and fruit-developing period. Thorough watering should be done at least once a week during this period if no rainfall occurs. With sandy soils, watering may be necessary every 5 days during hot, dry periods. In the arid regions, irrigation should be used.

Weed Control

Hoeing and hand-weeding are necessary in strawberry planting. Weeds rob the strawberry plants of moisture and nutrients and prevent them from becoming large and vigorous. In general the home garden plantings are best weeded without the use of chemicals. It is difficult to apply the chemical at the proper rate without the necessary equipment and there is the danger of doing damage to adjacent vegetable or flower plants. Plastic is excellent for weed control for everbearing varieties and those that do not produce many runners. This material can be used also on varieties that produce many runners, but holes must be made through the plastic to allow the runner plants to root in the soil.

Mulching

In the northern areas where the soil freezes, it is best to cover the strawberry bed with a mulch of straw, pine needles, or wood chips unless plastic is used. The mulch should be applied in the early winter, preferably after the ground has frozen for the first time. Sufficient mulch should be applied so that the plants are just barely visible through the mulch. This prevents the soil from freezing and thawing and heaving the plants out of the soil. It also protects them from cold, drying winds when there is no snow cover. When growth begins in the spring, the mulching material should be carefully removed from over the plants and left in place between the plants. This mulch on the ground helps to keep the berries clean as they ripen, conserves the moisture in the soil and is excellent for controlling weeds.

Harvesting

Strawberries ripen rapidly during hot weather and it is best to pick over the plantings each morning while they are cool. Berries may be harvested when they are fully red or when about 25% of the surface is white or light pink. A berry that has about 25% white will ripen to fully red within a day and it will have a good flavor. By picking berries before they are fully red or completely ripe, you will avoid rot and decay. This method of harvesting is especially helpful especially if several rainy days occur during the ripening period, since there will be fewer berries to become overripe or decayed during the rain when harvesting is not possible. Plastic covers can be placed over the rows to produce fruit several weeks earlier.

Pests

There are several insects that attack the strawberry plants and fruit. Use the appropriate insecticide for controlling Strawberry weevil, Strawberry root weevil, Japanese beetle grubs, Strawberry crown borer, Strawberry leaf-roller, red spider mites, and White fly and aphids.

Birds, deer, and rabbits are also problems in some areas, so fencing or netting works best.

Diseases

Gray mold rot is the cause of most fruit decay. Infection may start in the blossom, green fruit or flower stalk, but is most destructive to the berries which rest on the ground. Thinning of plants to allow normal drying after rain is helpful and spraying with a fungicide.

The most serious root disease is red stele which is identified by a red center in an infected root. Diseased plants are stunted, wilt in dry weather and produce worthless or no fruit. To avoid this trouble, plant only certified, disease-free plants and relocate beds where possible. The disease is most destructive in heavy clay soils that are saturated with water during cool weather. Once established in the soil, the fungus remains alive for up to 13 years and possibly longer, regardless of the crop rotation used.

The only practical method of controlling red stele is to grow certified, disease-free plants of resistant cultivars. Resistant cultivars include Darrow, Delite, Earliglow, Guardian, Midway, Pathfinder, Redchief, Redglow, Sparkel (Paymaster), Stelemaster, Sunrise, and Surecrop. Whenever possible, select a planting site that has never had red stele, has good to excellent drainage, and is located where water from nearby land will not drain through it. Avoid low, wet spots.

Black root, which is not identified with a specific disease, permits a few stunted live roots among many dead black roots. The same treatment as for red stele is suggested. Strawberry leaf spot on the leaves weakens the plant and decreases yield.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries (166 grams)

Calories 50

Protein 1 gram

Carbohydrates 11.65 grams

Dietary Fiber 3.81 grams

Calcium 23.24 mg

Iron 0.63 mg

Magnesium 16.60 mg

Phosphorus 31.54 mg

Potassium 44.82 mg

Selenium 1.16 mg

Vitamin C 94.12 mg

Folate 29.38 mcg

Vitamin A 44..82 IU

Measuring Strawberries

1 1/2 pounds = 2 pints or 1 quart

1 small basket = 1 pint

1 pint = 3 1/4 cups whole berries

1 pint = 2 1/4 cups sliced berries

1 pint - 1 2/3 cup pureed berries

1 cup = about 4 ounces

Source: University of Illinois Extension

 

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