Developing some small patches of strawberries

In the garden

BROOKINGS – The purpose of this article is to share some of my experiences of developing and maintaining a small patch of June bearing strawberries. This article will only address June bearing strawberries.

When developing a new patch, choose an area that has a history of being free of grasses and weeds. Strawberries will grow in most area soils but will strive in sandy soil. I pick varieties from catalogs of northern nurseries that are in or near this hardiness zone. The catalogs will help you identify the variety of strawberry plants you desire: (ie: size, taste, vigor, wintering, and/or resistant to disease). Varieties come in early, mid, and late season production. If possible, plant equal amounts each, that will lengthen your picking season.

The first year, you should not expect a crop. It takes one year to bring your plant population up to production levels. Plant the strawberry crowns with 24 inches spacing, in rows that are 36 inches or more apart. Plant as soon as frost is out of the ground and keep them moist. Consider picking blossoms off the plants the first year, which will force runners to start early. You will not renovate the first year.

You will get your first harvest the second and additional years. The first berries to appear are called “king ber-ries”. They are larger and easy to pick. Berries will get smaller as the season progresses, but the sweetness will be maintained. Frost can be a problem during the early blossom time and eliminate the king berries.  A black center in the blossom is a sign of frost damage. The plants blossom over a number of weeks, so not all is lost.

When the berry season is over, you must renovate the patch. Using a weed trimmer, cut down the berries to 1-3 inches high, leaving lower leaves. Do not damage the crowns. Use a tiller to put the plants into desired rows. Fertilize now, using a 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer (not lawn fertilizer) and continue weed control for the rest of the summer. During weeding, train your runners to stay in rows. Pay close attention to weed con-trol, it is the secret for longevity of your patch. Aggressively remove any grasses.  Grasses can quickly dominate and end the patch usefulness. Fertilize again in the fall. Make sure the plants are getting 1 inch of water per week all summer. 

Before really cold weather sets in, I cover the patch with a clean mulch. The mulch must be free of mold and weed seeds, that leaves you with few choices. Mulch protects the strawberry crowns from winter kill and gives some control over when you want the plants to come out of dormancy in the spring. As soon as the berries come out of dormancy, remove some of the mulch.  Leave some mulch between the plants to hold back weeds and keep dirt off the berries when picking.

For more information, go to the SDSU Extension website: Type in “strawberries” in the search box. This website has many helpful articles regarding growing strawberries.

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