Preparing a Strawberry Patch
Strawberry plants can adapt to a wide range of soil types but perform best on well-drained loamy soil.
Given a proper start, your home strawberry patch can bring many years of rewards. The most important considerations for getting off on the right foot include site selection, soil preparation, and vigorous, disease-free plants.
Choosing which strawberries to grow requires a bit of homework. Most strawberries flower when days are short in spring, producing their bounty of ripe, juicy strawberries in June; such plants are known as June-bearers. Strawberry plants can be selected for early, mid- or late-season production, depending on the cultivar. Early-bearing strawberry cultivars recommended for most parts in the Midwest include Earliglow, Annapolis, and Delmarvel. Guardian, Honeoye, Redchief, and Surecrop are suggested for mid-season production. For late-season production, Allstar, Jewel, and Sparkle are recommended.
Some strawberries are commonly called “everbearers,” but, in fact, they really only produce a small spring crop followed by a small fall crop, with no production during the summer. The cultivars Fort Laramie and Ozark Beauty fall into this category.
The more modern cultivars that are called “day-neutral” strawberries are the true ever-bearing types. Cultivars such as Tribute and Tristar will flower and produce fruit throughout the summer into the fall. Day-neutral types can be grown like an annual crop, planting in early spring, removing flowers for the first two months, and then begin harvesting in July right up to autumn frost. These plants dramatically decrease in production in subsequent years so that new plants should be set out each year. Day neutrals also tend to have low yields during extreme hot weather.
Remove blossoms the first year for June-bearing plants so that the plant can concentrate its resources on growing vigorous leaves and roots.
Strawberry plants can adapt to a wide range of soil types but perform best on well-drained loamy soil. Avoid planting in low-lying areas to minimize late-spring frost damage. Good drainage is a must. If your soil tends to let water stand, create a raised bed at least six to eight inches deep and incorporate good-quality top soil and organic matter, such as compost, rotted manure or peat moss. Good soil quality doesn’t happen overnight--in fact, planting the area to a green manure crop, such as oats or rye, the year before is an excellent way to build up organic matter content and improve aeration and drainage.
If you are using a new garden area, a soil test will target specific nutrient applications to get the best start. In the absence of test results, apply about two or three pounds of a high-phosphorus fertilizer, such as 6-24-24 or 5-10-5, to the bed and work it into the top six inches of soil.
Strawberry plants are generally sold in bundles of bare-rooted plants. Try to purchase the plants as close to planting time as possible to avoid excessive drying of the unprotected roots. If planting must be delayed, keep the plants cool and shaded and keep moist packing material around the roots.
Planting rows should be spaced 42-48 inches apart, with plants set at 15-24 inches apart within the row. Plants should be set with the crown (the fleshy part from which the leaves develop) at the soil’s surface. If plants are too shallow, they may dry out before they establish new roots, and if too deep, the plants may rot. Gently firm the soil around each plant and water thoroughly to encourage good contact between the soil and the plant’s roots.
Remove blossoms the first year for June-bearing plants so that the plant can concentrate its resources on growing vigorous leaves and roots. The mother plant will form daughter plants on long, horizontal stems known as runners. For ideal spacing in the mature patch, the runner plants should be positioned as they develop to allow a density of about five plants per square foot. Rows should be maintained no wider than 18-24 inches and, when the desired plant density is reached, all additional runners should be removed.
Though invisible to the gardener, the strawberry plants will begin to initiate flower buds within the crown of the plant during late August to early September. A side dressing of about one pound of 12-12-12 per 50 feet of row applied alongside the plants will help encourage this bud development. Avoid contacting the foliage with the fertilizer, and wash off any stray particles as soon as possible to prevent burning the foliage.
Strawberries will need to be protected through the winter to prevent cold injury. After plants become dormant in fall (generally in late November to mid December), apply a two-inch layer of straw, hay, chopped corncobs, or bark chips. When new growth begins the following spring, rake off most of the mulch, and spread it between the rows to help conserve moisture and prevent weed growth.
This article adapted from http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/strawberry.html
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