Strawberries are a great fruit choice for a home garden. They are easy to plant and care for, and a well-taken care of patch will continue to produce bright, red strawberries for years to come. Strawberries are very high in Vitamin C, and can supply a daily requirement of this vitamin with only one cup of berries. Strawberries can be eaten directly from the garden, or used in pies, ice cream, smoothies and many other yummy treats! If you have an excess of berries they can be frozen very easily for future use!
Selecting your strawberry cultivar is very important. There are two main types of strawberries, early-season or June-bearing cultivars and ever-bearing cultivars. The early season plants will produce a crop in June while the ever-bearing varieties will begin production in late June and continue producing fruit through out the summer. The ever-bearing varieties will require more maintenance and probably irrigation during the summer. Ogallala and Ozark Beauty are two great choices in ever-bearing varieties. Ever-bearing varieties will yield better under cool periods throughout the season. Some good choices for early-season cultivars include Sunrise and Earliglow. Be sure to buy your plants from a reputable nursery and that they will guarantee they are virus-free.
Strawberries should be planted in early spring, ideally in April. Plants should be set in the garden as soon as you purchase them. If you cannot plant the same day, you should place them in a dark room and pack moist packing material around the roots. You need to make sure that the roots will not dry out, as that will cause the plant to die.
The site you select for your strawberry patch is also important. Strawberries need dry conditions, so an area with a slight slope is ideal. The plants will bloom early in the spring, so you may want to choose an area that has an added frost protection. If the blooms freeze, the plants will not bear fruit. Do not plant strawberries on a south facing slope as the warm sun will trick the plants into thinking the weather is warmer and they will set out their blooms only to be attacked by frost.
A sandy or loamy soil is best for strawberries. If strawberries are planted in a hard, clay like soil, the plants will suffer from fruit rot. Try to stay far away from trees and do not plant near tomatoes, potatoes or peppers. Those vegetables are attacked by the same bugs, so you will want to avoid placing them close together. Fertilize the soil with about 10 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer and work it into the top 6 inches of soil. Strawberries like a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5.
The first year you plant your strawberries you will want to pick all the blooms off so that the plant does not bear fruit. This allows the roots to grow and develop a strong root system. Cultivate the bed often to prevent weed growth and mulch the rows between the plants. After the first year, you can allow your plants to flower and bear fruit. It is very important to keep weeds under control by weeding the patch often.
After the growing season is complete for the year you will want to trim or prune the plants. To do this you can mow off the plants to about one inch of height. This will prevent the patch from becoming overgrown and crowded out. The trimming should be done immediately after fruit production is complete. You don’t want to wait long because new leaves will grow up, and you want to allow them to grow.
Winter mulching is very important to protect your strawberry plants. Low winter temperatures may kill the fruit buds as well as the roots and crowns of the plants. When the temperature drops to below 20 F you will want to cover the plants with a heavy layer of mulch. Straw and chopped cornstalks make excellent mulching materials. 4 inches of straw is needed to protect the plants adequately. Remove the mulch in the spring as soon as you see signs of growth. Remove the mulch little by little so that the plants do not suffer from the shock of the cooler temperatures. If there is a threat of frost, you can place the mulch back over the plants for a short amount of time.
Once you have planted the strawberries, you will need to maintain the patch year after year for optimum production. Rotating the crops and setting out new plants through out the patch will assure new growth and healthy roots. Try planting a small patch and see how delicious your berries are!