Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Strawberry Essentials

by National Gardening Association Editors

Planning

  • Plants bear in their second season.
  • Plan to set your new plants out in early spring, just as the trees in your area leaf out.
  • For best yields, start a new bed of plants each year and take out beds that have fruited.

Preparation

  • Select a site that offers full sun and good drainage and air circulation.
  • Apply aged manure and a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 (1 pound per 50-foot row) before planting in the spring.

Planting

  • Space your rows 4 feet apart.
  • Trim the roots of the new plants to no more than 6 inches long. Soak the roots in water for about an hour before planting.
  • Set the plants 18 inches apart in the rows.
  • Dig holes in the ground deep enough so the roots are covered but the crown isn't buried. Pack the soil against the roots and add about 1/2 pint of water mixed with a diluted soluble fertilizer.

Care

  • First year, spring: Keep the bed free of weeds. Pick off blossoms to prevent fruiting and encourage production of healthy daughter plants.
  • Late spring: 5 to 6 weeks after planting, train daughter plants to take root in a 9-by-9-inch spaced row system.
  • Late spring and summer: Side-dress with ammonium nitrate (1/2 pound per 100-foot row), 5-10-10 (2 1/2 pounds per 100-foot row), or manure tea (1/2 to 1 pint per plant). Side-dress again 1 month later.
  • Late fall: After a few freezes, mulch with 5 to 6 inches of straw or 4 to 5 inches of pine needles.
  • Second year, late spring: Remove the mulch gradually in spring, but protect blossoms from late frost with covers of mulch, if needed. Provide 1 inch of water per week while the fruit is developing, through harvest.
  • Cover the patch with tobacco cloth or strawberry netting to keep birds out.
  • Summer: After harvest, till the plants under, plant a cover crop, and prepare the bed for new plants next spring.

Harvesting

  • The berries will ripen about 1 month after the plants bloom. Expect 2 to 3 weeks of harvesting for each variety.
  • Pick the plants clean every 2 or 3 days. Avoid the green-tipped berries; they're not fully ripe.
  • When harvesting, don't leave berry remnants on the plants. They encourage plant rot.
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