No better time than the present to get strawberry plants started in the home garden! Strawberries established in the fall have a much higher yield the following season. Ordering the plants and actually planting them is the easy part. Gardeners must take some time and elbow grease on the strawberry patch if you would like good quality berries the following year.
Much like veggies and our other backyard edibles, strawberries should be grown in an area where the sun is present all or most of the day. Strawberries can be grown in some shade, but fruit quality and yield is usually not the best. Six to eight hours of uninterrupted sunlight is the best. The addition of organic material may be necessary to achieve a well-drained soil in highly clayey soils. Preparation is everything so have a soil test run on new patches (good idea to soil test every 3 years). Strawberries need a soil pH of 6.0-6.8. It is hard to work additional lime into the planting area after strawberries have been planted if needed. Fertilize at planting based on the results. It is good to know that strawberries are susceptible to a soil disease called verticillium wilt. For that reason it is not a good idea to plant strawberries where tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and Irish potatoes have been grown in recent years.
Home gardeners may find a few choices when ordering or purchasing strawberry plants. June-bearing or spring-bearing types are generally harvested for several weeks in late spring, early summer. Examples of spring-bearers would include such cultivars as Earliglow, Camerosa, and Chandler. The June-bearing types of strawberries preform the best in the heat and humidity of Alabama. Everbearing types of strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring, mid-summer and fall. Ozark Beauty and Quinalt are common varieties of everbearing strawberry. The name everbearing may be a bit misleading in our area. They are poorly adapted to the Southern United States producing a scarce amount of berries. June-bearers are definitely the way to grow. Strawberries flower in response to daylight (photoperiod). June-bearers produce the short stems and flowers during the cool (and cooler) weather we have in late fall throughout the winter. During the longer days and higher temperatures, they respond by producing runners – the daughter plants that we love to share!
Daughter plants? Strawberries ‘run’ during the summer giving rise to new plants. These plant stolons are commonly called runners. Runners run horizontally along the ground. Once a node sends out roots, a new plant develops. These are called daughter plants as they are clones of the original plant. For many, the daughter plants become the main crop for the following year, replacing the original mother plant. Others may keep the mother plants for several years, transplanting and sharing the daughter plants with friends. Either way, in a home garden, strawberry plants should be renovated every three years because of the diseases and insects. Commercial growers treat strawberry plants as annuals.
A trip to the nearest pick your own strawberry farm will give you insight into commercial strawberry production – usually finding strawberries planted into irrigated plastic covered beds. Home gardeners may use plastic (irrigation has to be used under the plastic) or mulch the bed with pine straw or straw (other mulches will work as well). Keeping the fruit off the ground will help with fruit rots and slug damage. Raised rows are also beneficial for good drainage. Planted a foot apart in rows, you may have 2 rows of strawberries be if the rows are wide enough. Strawberries also grow well in raised beds. Strawberry plants are planted as crowns. It is very important to plant strawberries so the crown is slightly above the soil line when plants are firmed. Planting too deeply may result in poor growing or dying plants. Once the strawberries are planted, do not forget the water. A strawberry is flavored water after all. An inch of water per week on a well draining soil is sufficient.
If you do not have room for a small strawberry patch, try a strawberry pot. Strawberry pots are the terra cotta or plastic pots you see at garden centers with the urn shape and the holes up and down the sides in odd places. These pots are one of the easiest and most convenient ways to grow and harvest strawberries.
Start by choosing a pot that will hold a reasonable number of plants, and be sure that the pot has good drainage. Holes in the bottom of the pot are necessary to keep the roots from staying too wet and possibly rotting. When choosing the plants you will use, count on one plant per side opening, and three or four for the top.. You should be able to find the pots, the strawberry plants, and the potting media easily at your local nursery or retail garden center. Use a prefertilized, soilless, bagged media, and consider amending it with a good compost or plant food.
Begin by filling the bottom of the pot. Check to see if the drainage holes need to be covered loosely with broken terra cotta or pea gravel. This will provide drainage without allowing potting mix to fall out. As you reach the holes in the sides of the pot, tuck plants one by one through the outside of the holes, patting them in with potting mix from the inside to stabilize them.
When the urn is full, top it off with three or four plants and then water the media thoroughly through the holes and from the top. Set the plants on your patio in full sun and pick a fresh strawberry while relaxing on the porch. Sometimes a pot just isn’t big enough! You can make your own strawberry pot if you would like more plants. These have been made with great results using barrels or 5 gallon buckets.
by Dani Carroll, Regional Extension Agent for Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests