In the Garden:
New England
May, 2012
Regional Report

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You can harvest delicious strawberries all summer long when you plant day-neutral varieties.

Shedding Light on Day-Neutral Strawberries

"God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

William Allen Butler was referring to the strawberry, and I have to say, I quite agree with him, especially if we're talking about a strawberry plucked perfectly ripe from the garden on a lovely morning in June. That's about as close to perfection as you can get!

So while strawberry growing takes a little more planning and work than, say, planting lettuce or beans in the vegetable garden, the rewards are well worth the extra effort. And by adding the newer day-neutral varieties to your berry patch, as well as the traditional June-bearers, you can experience the sweet delight of fresh berries all summer long.

June-Bearing Strawberries
June-bearers are the classic type of strawberry. And true to their name, they usually begin producing fruits some time in June in our region, with the harvest continuing for four or five weeks into early July, depending on whether the particular variety is an early, mid-season, or late bearer. Although June-bearers fruit in the long days of early summer, the environmental signal that governs this timing actually occurs much earlier, in the short days (and long nights) of the previous fall.

The regulation of flowering, fruiting, and other plant processes by daylength is called photoperiodism. With June-bearing strawberries, the plants receive the signal to form flower buds as days shorten in late September through early November. It's actually the length of the night that the plant responds to, rather than the length of daylight. These buds stay dormant through the winter, and when the weather warms again in spring, the plants begin to flower and later, to fruit.

Day-Neutral Strawberries
Day-neutral strawberries are a more recent development, and as their name suggests, they initiate flower buds regardless of daylength, which enables them to fruit more or less continuously from early summer to fall, generally with three peaks of production over the course of the season. Their early summer berry production is not as great as that of the June-bearers and the individual berries are generally not as large, but their sustained fruit production makes them a great choice for many home gardens.

Another plus for day-neutral varieties is the fact that their harvest can begin the first year they are planted. With June-bearing varieties, the flower buds should be picked off the entire first season the plants are in the ground so that they become well established. The flower buds of the day-neutral types should be removed for the first six weeks after planting, but the buds that are allowed to flower after that period will go on to produce a delectable harvest from late summer to frost in the first year.

Day-neutral varieties that do well in our region include Tristar, Tribute, Everest, and Seascape. Dormant bareroot strawberry plants are usually planted in April, but many nurseries and garden centers now sell plants in containers, which can still go in the ground.

Planning Ahead
If you're new to strawberry growing, planning now for next year's planting is a good idea. All strawberries do best when they are not in competition with weeds. So if you plan on making a berry bed in an area that has not been cultivated before, choose a site with well-drained soil and good air drainage (to reduce the likelihood of frost damage), remove any sod, adjust the pH to between 6.0 and 7.0 if needed, work in some compost, and plant a summer cover crop like buckwheat to choke out weeds. You'll be all set next spring to get your plants in the ground in early spring.

Then you can decide for yourself if, indeed, a ripe, red, homegrown strawberry is the pinnacle of berry perfection!

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