Planting Strawberries / Planting Systems
Setting Strawberry Plants
Strawberries should be planted in the early spring as soon as the soil is workable. Some Gardeners plant in September or Late Autumn in anticipation of the next season - this will work also dependent on the variety you are using. I have always planted in early spring and have done well this way.
Choose a cool location, if storage is necessary before they are planted, keep the roots moist, but not soggy, and out of direct sunlight. If possible, plant on a cool, cloudy day to reduce the stress on the transplants.
Strawberries do best in drained fairly rich soil, so be sure to add compost or other organic matter when preparing the strawberry patch
When Planting, be sure the crown is above soil level and the topmost roots are 1/4 inch beneath soil level.
Buried crowns will rot and Exposed roots will dry out.
Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and keep weed growth down.
There as four basic systems for growing strawberries
Hill System Matted Row Ground Cover Raised Beds
First Growing Season
When Growing Strawberries as a Perennial, Pinch off new blossoms during the first year of strawberry plant growth. The plants rarely provide fruit during the first year, by gently pinching off the blossoms with your fingers you will encourage new growth for the following season.
Prune damaged roots , Trim excessively long roots to approximately 5 inches in length
How to Grow Strawberries using The Hill system
The Hill system is used for day neutral or ever bearing cultivars and works well in raised beds. Rows should be about 8-10 inches high and 23-26 inches wide. (Starter plants are planted only 12 inches apart), Staggered double rows are preferable. Leave an isle between the rows about 2 feet wide.
The plant's energy is put toward producing berries rather than producing an abundance of plants as in the matted row system. Runners are removed and berries are harvested the first season.
The hill system works well in warm climates where strawberries can be planted in the fall. The plants can be treated as annuals, replacing them every fall for best results.
If not treating them as annuals, keep in mind that the Plants productivity wanes over time, they should be replaced every 1-3 years.
The Matted Row System
The matted row system is an old, tried and true method of growing strawberries. Strawberry plants are set out at regularly spaced intervals, allowing ample space between rows to walk. The first planting is permitted to send out strawberry runners unimpeded, and establish multiple daughter plants. Keeping rows to a minimum width of approximately 1.5 to 2 feet may force you to cut back some runners that grow between the rows. The plants eventually produce a matted and tangled network of runners and plants at various stages of development.
In the spring, place the Starter (or Mother) plants 1.5 to 2 feet and allow them to produce and set runner plants unobstructed. The first year all the plant's energy is devoted to producing and developing strong plants, all flowers should be picked off, and fruit is not harvested until the second season.
One disadvantage to the matted row system is year round maintenance. After the season ends and the last strawberry has been plucked the renovation process begins [scroll down to Renovation].
June Bearing Strawberries, that produce a single crop annually, as opposed to those that can be harvested all summer long, lend themselves best to a matted row system.
How to Grow Strawberries as a Ground-cover
Ground covers are a desirable asset to many landscape scenarios. A vegetative ground cover helps to suppress weeds, prevents soil erosion, insulates the soil, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It also acts basically as a living mulch that helps build humus in the soil.
Wild strawberries commonly form a ground cover over small swaths of land naturally. They are however small and not nearly as prolific as many hybrid and cultivated varieties. Virginia wild strawberry is a variety that performs well as a ground cover when well maintained it will form a mat over patches of ground and at times needs to be forced back.
Alpine strawberries work well for a ground cover also, they are small fruited and low growing. They will produce right up till the first frost and do not send out runners allowing them to be easily confined to a limited area. The Alpine Strawberry plants, over time, will form a solid mass that will cover the ground. They may need thinning / dividing after several seasons.
If birds are a bother in your garden 'Yellow Wonder' is, as the name implies, a yellow strawberry that birds do not bother as the yellow berries confuse them.
About a week before setting out the plants, till and fertilize the soil. Space the starter plants roughly 1 foot apart. Strawberries do not grow thick enough to suppress weeds, so you'll have to weed well. As a ground cover they will not produce as much fruit as they would in other systems but many people feel the aesthetic benefits outweigh the fruit production in this case.
It is a good idea to plant more than one variety of strawberry plant for a more robust and extended harvest.
Strawberries in Raised Beds
Some gardeners find that raised beds are easier to maintain and promote more vigorous plant growth. Walking in a garden causes soil compaction, which can cause problems with drainage and oxygen availability to the roots. It's also more difficult to weed when soil is compacted.
With a raised bed, you can plant, weed and harvest without ever walking on the soil.
You can also avoid drainage problems by planting in raised beds.
If you are building your bed directly on soil, be sure to improve the drainage by breaking up the ground at the base with a pitch fork or spade. Then fill the bulk with compost and topsoil.
The soil warms up faster in the spring than in a traditional garden, hence your growing season and yield is extended. See: Raised Beds For Vegetable Gardens
Companion Planting Strawberries
Borage : This herb attracts pollinators as well as beneficial insects that prey on many strawberry pests. It adds trace minerals to the soil . Some people claim that the flavor of strawberries is enhanced when grown near Borage.
Caraway: Caraway attracts parasitic wasps that feed on some strawberry pests.
Bush Beans: Nitrogen Fixer, which can improve strawberry growth and yields. Bush Beans are also believed to repel certain beetles which are pests of strawberries.
Lupin: Like beans, lupine fixes nitrogen in the soil. Its flowers also attract pollinators.
Do Not plant strawberries near members of the cabbage family which inhibits their growth. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi.
See: Companion Planting
Care and Cultivation of Strawberry Plants
Basic Care of Strawberries
Firm the surrounding soil and water thoroughly.
Regularly hoe between rows and individual plants.
Remove runners and old leaves.
Most strawberries produce offsets at the end of runners. If you want more plants, just let them grow. If you have enough strawberry plants, pinching off the runners will give you larger plants with smaller yields of bigger berries.
Watering ~ Irrigation
June-bearing strawberries that have been renovated after this year's harvest should be watered weekly during dry weather. Watering aids the recovery of the renovated planting and helps ensure optimal production next season.
The flower buds on June- bearing strawberries develop in late summer and fall. These flower buds will bloom the following spring.
If the strawberry planting is not properly watered, dry weather in late summer and fall could drastically reduce flower bud formation and next year's crop. Water is especially important while the fruit is forming, from early bloom to the end of harvest.
Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries must be watered during dry periods to maintain good fruit production.
Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering, this helps to promote good root development. Do not water excessively, so as to avoid rot. Inexpensive water timer systems are available. You might also want to consider a drip irrigation system, the most common way of spreading strawberry plant diseases and soil borne pathogens is via wet soil splashed on the plant in the irrigation process.
Iron deficiency, or chlorosis, is common in excessively watered strawberries. It is characterized by pale, yellowed leaves with dark green veins. In severe cases, the edges of the leaves will dry up and turn brown. Yields are typically dismal. See: Nutrient Disorders in Vegetable Gardens
Water management is vital when growing plants in alkaline soils [high pH]. In excessively wet or poorly drained soils, the chemistry of the soil degrades in some aspects and iron is depleted. Excessive irrigation in heavy clay soils or in cool climates frequently leads to a deficiency of iron. Numerous iron compounds are commercially available for treating iron chlorosis but no single product has proven 100% successful in all situations. Furthermore strawberries do not always respond well to foliar sprays of iron.
If you notice symptoms of chlorosis, reduce the frequency of watering. If the condition persists, apply Iron sulfate using recommendations on the bag. Sequestrene will also do the trick.
The recommendations below are generalized and should be adjusted to the fertility, nutrient holding ability of your soil, and your observations of the plant growth. An application of Miracle-Gro as they are attempting to get established is recommended.
The soil should have been fertilized before planting as recommended. if not, apply 1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row two weeks after planting.
Repeat in late August. 1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row at renovation (after harvest) and again in late August.
In colder climates do not fertilize strawberries late in the season. Fertilizer encourages new growth that will only be damaged by frost.
2 weeks after planting apply 1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row if soil was not fertilized before planting.
Repeat twice in the growing season.Fertilize with 1/3 to 1/2 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row three times per year.
In containers, it may be easier to use a weekly soluble fertilizer or a slow release fertilizer according to label directions. See: Understanding Fertilizer Labels
Soil pH in the range of 5.5 to 6.5 is considered optimal , but good yields have been produced with a pH as high as the 7.5 range.
See Soil pH and adjust accordingly.
Leaf and debris removal from the base of plants and immediate area. Mow the old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns. Rake and remove the leaves, if not diseased, compost them or dig them into the soil.
This mowing should be done within 1 week of the last harvest. [Do not mow the strawberry bed after this one week period as later mowing destroys new leaf growth.]
If the strawberry patch has become a solid bed , create 8-inch-wide plant strips . Space the plant strips about 3 feet apart. Narrow the rows to 8-inch-wide strips by removing the older plants, while keeping the younger ones.
After this renovation, the strawberry plants should develop runners and eventually form a matted row of plants before Autumn.
Fertilization is next . Scroll up for Fertilizer recommendations.
Continue to irrigate even after renovation, irrigate the strawberry planting weekly during dry weather. Adequate moisture promotes plant growth and fruit production in the following season. The flower buds of June-bearing strawberries develop in late summer and early Autumn. If not properly watered, dry weather in late summer and fall could drastically reduce flower bud formation and next year's crop.
Weed control through the summer months is also vital. Some gardeners will apply a layer of straw or suitable mulch between rows to control weeds.
After several years , as berry size and quantities decline, you should start planning for a new strawberry bed. Renovate the current strawberry planting one last time. After renovation, select a site for a new planting next spring.
To protect strawberries against winter injury, a layer of mulch is recommended. If plants are unprotected, low winter temperatures may kill the fruit buds and damage the roots and crowns. Alternate freezing and thawing conditions in the spring cause heaving of the plants. Mulch should be applied before the temperature drops below 20oF . Once the temperature drops below 15oF (-10oC), damage to the plants begins. However, if the mulch is applied too early before the plant growth stops the crowns may rot.
Clean hay or straw make the best mulching material. Do not use tree leaves, as they mat down and smother the plants. A 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch is sufficient.
Leave winter mulch in place until plants show signs of growth in the spring. No harm will result even if many of the plants show one or two small yellow new center leaves. Delayed mulch removal prevents most heaving and may also delay early blooming which may be damaged by spring frosts. Remove just enough of the mulch so that the plants can come through.