Strawberry fields forever
May 10, 2018
Berries, berries everywhere, but not a drop to...OOPS, wrong poem. What a concept, though. Strawberries everywhere. I've never met anyone who didn't like strawberries and they are very easy to grow here with just a little bit of care and knowledge. In fact, mine grow like weeds and are getting into my asparagus patch and Linda's flower beds. Not so sure I like that idea.
Strawberries come in two basic types: June-bearers and everbearers. The June-bearers will bear only one crop each year, usually in the June to July time frame. Everbearers will bear two crops, one in June and the other in the fall. Okay, now that I've spoken the party line. My everbearers start producing in June and go into July. In August they slow down but don't stop completely. Then, when the weather cools down, they pick back up and start producing again. A third type that I won't dwell on is the day-neutral type. They produce all season, but the berries are smaller and the overall yield is less.
The University of Wyoming has an on-going study project on strawberries and has that found that the best June-bearers for our area are: Guardian, Kent, Honeoye, Red Chief, Delight, Jewel, Mesabi, A.C., Wendy, Cabot and Bloomiden. A pretty good list and showing the strength of the plant. There are three everbearers that have demonstrated an excellent ability to thrive here: Fort Laramie, Ogallala, and Ozark Beauty. I've been growing the Fort Laramie variety for over twenty years. We transplanted them from my mother in law's garden in Nebraska and they have been with us and producing ever since.
To start a strawberry bed you'll need to remove all of the grass and weeds from the bed area. I suggest giving yourself a bumper area around the strawberries, too. It'll make for easier weeding later. Of course, make sure to have your soil tested so you know what nutrients may be needed. Once you have the soil amended it's time to start preparing your rows. Both of the methods I'll discuss require a well-drained area. There are two basic methods to establishing your rows, matted rows and the hill system. For us older strawberry lovers, raised beds can be a great benefit to our backs. Anyway, a matted row is essentially planting rows 18-24 inches apart and allowing the strawberry plants to fill in between rows to form a dense mat. Most of the literature suggests 3-4 feet apart, but I plant mine closer so it's easier to get to the berries at harvest time. The plants should be about 18 inches apart in the rows. I also suggest a work space between your mats large enough that you can move around with ease without trampling your plants. Cut off the runners that transgress into your work space to train the plants to put out the runners into the space between the rows. Allow the runners to plant themselves about 1 per square foot of space. If you weight down the end of the runner, it'll help them plant easier.
Hill planting is just like it sounds. The main advantage of a hill is that it helps the water drain away from the roots. It is a very good system for everbearers. Plants can be closure together, 12 inches to 15 inches and in double or triple rows since Everbearers have fewer runners. Don't forget your work space.
Strawberries need water, but not a lot. Established plants will need about an inch per week. New plants will need to be well irrigated. Remember the finger method to determine when to water. Stick your finger in the ground. If it's still wet, no water Otherwise, use judgement. The roots need to be able to dry out somewhat between waterings to keep from developing root rot so don't overwater. Plants with root rot will not thrive and will eventually die. Hence the need for well-drained soil. Strawberries have a shallow root system so you'll need to hoe around the plant, gently, to keep the soil loosed and to kill weeds that will be harmful to the plants. Using mulch or weed barrier will help keep the weeds down, conserve moisture and keep the fruits cleaner. Don't expect any fruit the first year. In fact, you should remove the flowers in the first year to provide the plants more energy to direct toward root production. For everbearers, remove the flowers until about July 1st to increase the yield. I've had few problems with insects, but birds are another story. I think they like the berries as much or more than I do. Bird netting works well to keeps the birds out of your berries. With these few tips, you should have a productive strawberry patch full of luscious fruit. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.