Strawberries are an easy to grow fruit that will reward the home gardener with ample harvests for many years. With favorable conditions, each strawberry plant should produce one quart of strawberries per season.
Choosing Strawberry Plants
Strawberry plants are grouped by their fruiting habits. There are basically 3 types of strawberry plants to choose from - June bearing, Everbearing, and Day Neutral. Be sure you know what you are planting because the type of plant will determine when and how much you harvest.
June Bearing strawberries produce a single, large crop per year during a 2 to 3 week period in the spring. June bearers are the traditionally grown plants, producing a single flush of flowers and many runners. The largest fruits are generally from June bearing varieties. Although all June bearing strawberries fruit in late spring or early summer, generally around the month of June, there are early, mid-season and late varieties. If you plant some of each, you can extend your harvest period by a few weeks, throughout June, rather than getting all your fruits at once. However, if you want to preserve your strawberries, having them ripen at about the same time is an advantage.
Everbearing strawberries do not continually bear fruit, as their name would imply. Everbearing strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer, and fall. Everbearing plants do not send out many runners, remaining in tidy clumps.
Day Neutral strawberries will produce fruit throughout the growing season, but in smaller quantities than June bearing plants. Like everbearing types, these strawberries also produce few runners. Everbearing and day neutral strawberries are great when space is limited. They have a longer season of harvest, but the fruits are usually somewhat smaller than June bearers.
Where to Plant Strawberries
Basic considerations when locating a strawberry patch include:
Planting Strawberry Plants
You can grow strawberries however you like, even in containers, but the two traditional methods, matted rows, and hills are outlined below. Whatever planting method you choose, the following rules apply:
- Plant in the spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked, or in late fall.
- Be sure you have certified disease-free plants.
- Select plants with large crowns and healthy, light-colored roots.
- Amend the soil with 1 to 2 inches of organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure.
- Keep the area weeds. Weeds will compete for water and nutrients with your strawberry plants.
- Make a hole large enough to spread out the roots. Hill the soil in the center of the hole and position the crown slightly so it sits slightly above soil level.
- Spread the roots downward on the hilled soil.
- Fill the hole, making sure the soil only goes halfway up the crown. A buried crown will rot.
Matted Row System (Best for June Bearing Strawberries)
The matted row system works well with strawberry plants that send out a lot of runners. Set plants 18 inches apart in rows of 24 inches, with 4 to 4 1/2 feet between rows.
Leaves and flower buds will emerge shortly after planting. Pinch off all flowers during the first year in the garden, on June bearing varieties, and all flowers that form until July 1st on ever-bearing and day neutral varieties. This will encourage both plant vigor and the production of runners to fill in the mat. Pinching off this year's flowers means no crop this year but a much better crop next year and several more years of production.
As runners develop from the plant crowns, train them along the row, spacing them 6 to 9 inches apart. Press the runner gently into the soil, hold in place with a rock or cover with about 1/2 inch of soil until roots form. Do not sever the runner from the mother plant. The runners will form the mat.
Hill System for Day Neutral and Everbearing Strawberries
Day neutral and everbearing strawberry plants don't send out many runners and instead focus their energy on producing multiple harvests. The hill system is basically a raised bed 8 inches high and 2 feet wide. Plants are set out in staggered double rows, about 12 inches apart. Any runners that do form should be removed as well as all flowers until July 1st of the first year. Plants may then be allowed to produce fruit. Multiple harvests are exhausting on plants and both day neutral and everbearing varieties should be replaced about every 3 years or whenever they seem to slow in vigor.
Mulching the Strawberry Bed
Mulch between plants after planting to keep the soil temperature cool, deter weeds, and to keep the fruit off the soil. Straw is the traditional strawberry mulch. Do not use black plastic since it will raise the soil temperature and optimal fruit production requires cool soil.
In colder climates, mulching over the strawberry plants in winter will prevent injury to the crowns. Wait until the temperature drops to 20 degrees F. and cover the bed with several inches of straw or pine needles. Be sure to use a mulch that can be easily removed in the spring. Once again, straw is an ideal option. Shredded leaves also work well.
Keeping Your Strawberry Plants Watered
1 to 2 inches of water per week is needed for juicy fruits. Regular watering is especially important while the fruit is forming, from early bloom to the end of harvest.
- Start with a rich, organic soil. Apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at planting time, at the rate of one pound per 100 sq. ft.
- Fertilize again after renovation of June bearers or the second harvest of day neutrals and everbearing types.
- Do not over fertilizer or you will have excessive leaf growth and poor flowering.
- Do not fertilizer strawberries late in the season in colder climates, to prevent new growth that will be damaged by frost.
Harvesting Your Strawberries
Strawberries are their sweetest when fully ripened on the plants. For most varieties, this means leaving the berries on the plant for a day or two after they are fully colored. The only way to know for sure is a taste test.
Strawberries bruise easily. Be gentle when pulling them from the plants. Snap or cut the stem directly above the berry rather than pulling on the berry itself. Keep harvested berries in a cool, shady location.
Caring for Strawberry Plant - Renovating the June Bearing Strawberry Bed
Strawberry plants don't live forever, but some renovation will keep them vigorous for at least 5 years.
- After the final harvest, mow the strawberry plants to a height of 2 to 3 inches, taking care not to damage the crowns.
- Feed with 5 lb. of a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer per 100 linear feet of row.
- Till the area between the rows. Don't worry about the mulch, till that in too.
- Narrow the width of the mat rows to 18 inches by removing one side of the row and leaving the younger plants.
- Thin the remaining plants in the rows to 6 to 9 inches apart.
- When yield seems to be falling off or the plants begin declining in vigor, start over with new plants in a new area.
Strawberry Growing Problems
Diseases: The most common diseases of strawberries are: Verticillium Wilt, Botrytis (Fruit Rot) and Red Stele (Root Rot): The best defense is to choose resistant varieties and rotate where you plant them every few years.
Insects: Tarnished Plant Bug. Feeding by the tarnished plant bug will result in disfigured, nubby berries.
Two and 4-footed Animals: Birds will inevitably get some of your berries. Plant more than you will need and cover the area with bird netting.
You will also need to protect your plants from most rodents, rabbits, and deer. Netting and fencing should keep most of them at bay. Just make sure they don't get under the netting and dine undercover.
Recommended Strawberry Varieties
As with all plants, new, improved varieties are introduced every year. Call your local Cooperative Extension service for strawberry varieties grown and recommended for your specific area. Below are some popular varieties complied with Cooperative Extension recommendations that should be available locally or through catalogs.
- Seascape: Bred in California, seascape is performing well across the country. Large, good quality fruits are produced throughout the season.
- Selva: Selva is popular in California and Florida where it produces extremely large berries. It has shown some success in the midwest but is not hardy enough for the northeast.
- Tribute and Tristar: These are the standards for day neutral strawberries. Extremely popular in the northeast and cooler climates. Very disease resistant and vigorous with good runner production. Tribute has larger fruit and Tristar wins for flavor.
- Fort Laramie: An older variety with good quality fruit that really does everbear. Runner production is good only if the early blossoms are removed.
- Quinault: A quick producer, 4 to 5 weeks, with good quality fruit. Virtually no runners are produced, making it a good choice for pots.
June Bearing strawberries initiate summer and are the varieties we traditionally think of when we think fresh berries. There are plenty of varieties to choose from with new and improved varieties being introduced every year.
June Bearing Strawberries
- Allstar: A traditional late-season variety with a sweet, mild flavor. Vigorous plants and numerous runners provide a high yield. Performs well in heavy soils and is resistant to red stele and Verticillium Wilt.
- Annapolis: A mid-season producer with good flavor and large berries. Can be soft in texture. Plants are very vigorous, with many runners. Resistant to red stele. Good choice for mid-Atlantic.
- Brunswick: A mid-season producer with good flavor, but the fruit can bruise easily. Good yield and vigorous plants. Flavor is similar to Honeoye, with larger berries.
- Cabot: Produces large, pale berries that can be irregular in shape. Prefers a rich soil and is resistant to red stele but very susceptible to gray mold and virus infections. Late season.
- Chandler: A California introduction that shows some adaptability to the East coast, especially southern regions. A high yielder with very large fruit.
- Cornwallis: Mid-Season variety with medium-sized fruits that have both good flavor and texture. Productive and vigorous with lots of runners. Resistant to red stele.
- Cavendish: Large fruits with good flavor. Ripens unevenly, especially during high temperatures, and plants are not the most vigorous. Resistant to red stele and Verticillium Wilt. Mid-Season.
- Darselect: A mid-season producer with long, conical berries that taste great, but can be soft in texture. Very susceptible to foliar diseases.
- Delmarvel: Good flavor and texture and excellent disease resistance. An excellent mid-season choice for mid-Atlantic and south. No particularly cold hardy.
- Earliglow: Early Season. Firm with good color and flavor, but size decreases later in the season. Lots of runners. Resistant to red stele and Verticillium Wilt.
- Honeoye: A popular mid-season variety because of its high yields and large, firm, berries. The flavor can be tart and it doesn't do well in heavy soils. No resistance to either red stele disease or Verticillium.
- Jewel A popular late season variety. Fruits are firm with good flavor. Moderate yields, and susceptible to red stele. Performs best in warm climates. Suitable for heavy soils. Freezes well.
- Kent: Excellent flavor and yields, but plants decline quickly, lasting only a couple of years. Not a good choice for warm climates, since hot weather can cause the skin to toughen. No resistance to red stele or verticillium and susceptible to foliar diseases. Mid-season.
- L'Amour: Introduced in 2004, L'Amour has excellent flavor and texture, but no resistance to red stele or Verticillium. Mid-season.
- Lateglow: Fruits have good flavor and a firm texture. Plants are moderately vigorous and do best in warmer climates. Good resistance to red stele and Verticillium. Late season.
- Mesabi: Developed in Minnesota, Mesabi has very good cold tolerance. It is a high yielder with good flavor, but the berries do not store well. Resistant to red stele and somewhat resistant to leaf spot and powdery mildew.
- Mic Mac: A good producer firm, good tasting berries. Vigorous plants and many runners, but no resistance to red stele or Verticillium. Late season.
- Mohawk: Ripens very early. Good flavor. Yields are higher in warm climates. Vigorous plants with good runner production. Resistant to red stele and Verticillium Wilt.
- Northeaster: A great early season performer, especially for Northeast gardens, but the strong strawberry flavor is not to everyone's liking. Good for heavy soils and shows some resistance to red stele and Verticillium.
- Sable: Earlier than Earliglow and equal in flavor. Texture is soft and should be picked just prior to eating. Susceptible to early frosts. Some resistance to red stele.
- Seneca: A moderately vigorous late season variety, Seneca is most often grown in the northeast. Flavor is mild. No resistance to red stele or Verticillium.
- Sparkle: Great flavor, but texture can be soft and the size of the fruit decreases toward the end of the season. Vigorous plants with many runners and some resistance to red stele. Late season.
- Sweet Charlie: Popular Florida variety with good resistance to anthracnose fruit rot. Bred for a high sugar content and very sweet fruit.
- Veestar: A Canadian variety that is very productive and vigorous, with good flavor and high yield, but no resistance to either red stele or Verticillium Wilt. Early season.
- Winona: Another Minnesota introduction that shows good cold tolerance. The berries are very large and remain firm. Plants are moderately vigorous with resistance to red stele root rot and most foliar diseases.