They take up fairly little space for a reasonably family-size patch and are easy to grow. Many of the new varieties are everbearing, which means that they will produce all summer. And most of the varieties available in this area are fairly disease- and pest-resistant. If you haven’t put in a small strawberry patch, now is a good time to think about it.
Begin your strawberry growing experience by selecting a variety that you like. New varieties are being introduced all the time, but Quinalt and Fort Laramie are among my favorites. Grazing is usually encouraged so that you can determine which variety tastes best to you.
There are two main types that are widely cultivated and sold commercially. One is “short-day” or June-bearing. These plants bear most or all their fruit during June in the Northern Hemisphere. They form flower buds in the fall, go dormant over the winter, then produce flowers and fruit in the spring.
The second, increasingly popular type is the “day-neutral” strawberry, which will fruit almost continuously from spring to fall. These are sometimes referred to as “everbearing.” They form buds regardless of day length and often produce their largest crop in the fall, which makes now a good time to plant them in your garden. This type is widely available in our area and my personal favorite because I’m often too busy early in the year to harvest and preserve them.
Strawberries do best in full sun, although they can tolerate some shade. Make sure your site isn’t too wet or dry. Good soil is essential. Although strawberries prefer acid soil, they can be grown in slightly alkaline soils like ours. Before planting, be sure the soil is well worked with organic material. Use a good commercial fertilizer along with the organic material and work it down about 7-8 inches deep.
Dig deep enough to accommodate all the roots. Place the plant into the hole, cover and press firmly around the plant to set the soil. Be sure that all the roots are covered but do not cover the bud by planting it too deep, or you could smother it. Water after planting.
Keep weeds under control throughout the growing season. If your area is small, you will be able to do this by hand weeding. Landscape fabric has become very popular as a way to control weeds in furrows or between beds or rows. Be sure to keep your plants watered; letting them dry out will result in stress. If we experience a very dry period, more water will be required.
The runners on your berries are the main way that they produce new plants, and you can redirect the runners as they come off the main plants. This will help the bed to fill in evenly. If there are too many runners, or you have no place to send them, cut them off. Remember that strawberry plants need room in order to produce at their optimum, so don’t overcrowd the beds. Do not plan to have more than 3-5 plants per square foot of bed space.
Although eating and making jam are the primary goals when you plant strawberries, I also use strawberry plants as a groundcover. Once they are established and start to spread, they will choke out the weeds while providing a pretty, green groundcover. Just take care to be sure they get enough sun and you’ll get the benefit of both the groundcover and the fruit.
I think of them as edible landscaping – the leaves are pretty, the flowers are delicate, and they serve a useful purpose in the garden. And whether you choose to plant a small patch or a large enough garden of them to produce fruit to feed your family, they can be easily tucked into vacant spaces in the garden.
And the results are delicious!