It’s Planting Time!
Planting season has begun and I’m thinking about strawberries. I just finished planting a new strawberry bed where winter lettuce and mizuna had been growing. Thought it might be a good time to share our experience with this perennial favorite.
I planted bare root strawberries. Bare root plants are the same age as the far more expensive 4″ pots of strawberries typically sold in garden centers later in spring. You can take advantage of early planning by purchasing bare root plants between fall and early spring, and pay nearly 90% less than the price of potted plants. You’ll find them in the same area where seed potatoes, onion sets and asparagus roots are sold. I bought thirty bare root plants from a local store, enough to fill my 4’x12′ bed, for $8.94 compared to $2.99 each (nearly $90 for 30 plants) for potted plants.
Which Kind To Plant
Not all strawberries are created equal. There are two basic categories of strawberry plants: everbearing and June-bearing. Everbearing varieties produce berries lightly and repeatedly throughout the growing season. “June” bearing varieties produce all of their fruit in a condensed timeframe somewhere between late spring and early summer. Both offer excellent varieties, so your choice should be determined by your needs. Everbearing varieties give you a little fruit all summer, fantastic for fresh eating. June bearing varieties give you heavy yields all at once, which is a useful trait for making preserves.
Prepare The Roots
To prepare the roots for planting, I separated the bundles and knocked off the peat moss that they were packed in. Next I submerged them in a bucket of water to soak for an hour or so while I prepared the planting bed. I used plain water, but you could use a mild liquid fertilizer solution to give them a boost – either fish emulsion or compost tea would work well for that. If the peat moss is really dry, you may want to soak the roots overnight to make sure they are well hydrated.
Prepare The Bed
My planting bed didn’t require much work, since it had been in production of greens up to that day. Strawberries are acid-loving, so avoid planting them in a bed that was limed recently. They benefit from generous amounts of compost, and the same type of fertilizer that is used on rhododendrons, gardenias, azaleas and the like. I forked the soil over, and raked in 5# of Holly Tone, before planting.
Because they grow very closely to the ground, and trail across the ground as they mature, strawberries require a weed free site. There are several ways to accomplish that including hand weeding, thick mulch, weed barrier fabric and granular weed preventer (corn gluten based). After several trials and errors, my preferred method is hand weeding, which seems to be what eventually needs to happen anyway. Weeds shelter the critters, like slugs, ants and birds, who seem to find and devour strawberries at the absolute peak of ripeness, before you can get them. They also reduce air circulation and hold in excess moisture which increases problems with diseases and rot.
How To Plant Bare Roots
Planting bare root strawberries is not difficult, but there are a few key points to bear in mind. First, be sure to fan the roots in all directions to ensure they draw their nutrients from a maximum area. Next, plant them on slight mounds, 1/2″ to 1″ above the surrounding grade, to be sure that water drains away. Finally, only plant them as deep as the point where the roots generate on the stem – if you avoid burying the short stems, you will most likely avoid problems with crown rot. Space the plants 12 to 18 inches in each direction.
How They Grow
June bearing strawberry varieties set runners (which form baby strawberry plants) after fruiting. Everbearing varieties begin setting runners in mid-summer. Use this knowledge to your advantage. The time to transplant existing strawberries is fall. At that time there are plenty of plants, both old and new, from which to select for your new bed. Cull those that exhibit disease or have not produced well. Select only young, vigorous plants or older plants that have not yet declined. A strawberry bed should produce well for two seasons before requiring a major renovation, at which time it is a good idea to move it to a new location in the garden.
No Space No Problem
Strawberries grow and produce well in containers. Frostproof containers may be left outdoors year round. The traditional strawberry pot, with its side pockets, is not the only option. Any shallow, well drained container will work, including hanging baskets. Wall troughs can prove effective in maximizing production in small spaces, as they can be mounted in multiple tiers. When planted in containers, allow runners to trail and they will be fed by the parent plant.
If you’re thinking about planting strawberries, the “off season” is a great time to do it. Get the biggest bang for your buck and go for the bare roots.
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