Whether dipped in chocolate, tossed in a fruit salad or eaten plain, strawberries say summer in a big way. But they aren’t always cheap or sweet when purchased at the store. Save money and get the freshest by growing your own.
First, choose the type of strawberry: June bearing, everbearing or day neutral. As the name implies, June bearing plants produce berries primarily in June; everbearing in early summer and fall, with not much in between; and day neutral yield all summer except when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
Day neutral are what most home gardeners want unless they need a large batch of berries to make jam, according to Oregon State University Extension Service experts.
Once you have decided on the type of strawberry to grow, choose a variety. For June bearing, there’s Hood, which is the standard bearer for flavor. Day neutral varieties are Albion and Seascape. Readily available in the everbearing category is Quinault.
Bare root strawberry plants, which are bought with no soil on the roots, are available at nurseries and through mail order in February and March. Put starts in the ground as soon as possible.
Strawberries are self-pollinating, so you don’t need to pair them with another variety like you do with blueberries. Plant in full sun for best production. Build a raised bed 12 inches high by tilling in organic material, preferably compost.
There are two ways to plant strawberries. Matted row is preferred for June bearers and hill for day neutral and everbearers.
To make a matted row planting, place berries 15 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. The runners, which root and make new plants, will fill in the space and result in a dense planting. As runners grow outside the bed, push them back in, where they will make new plants.
In the hill system, keep 12 to 15 inches between plants in double- or triple-wide rows. Aisles should be 1½ to 2 feet wide. Cut off runners every two to three weeks. It’s best to wait until runners have formed “daughter” plants but have not rooted.
Use a balanced fertilizer with the three numbers on the front label equal or close to equal. For example, 16-16-16. Check the label and divide the recommended amount by the number of seasonal applications needed. June bearing strawberries get fertilizer following renovation after the fruit is finished. Everbearers and day neutral get several applications throughout the season. Use a garden tool or broom to sweep fertilizer off leaves and always water after feeding.
Don’t be dismayed when strawberries don’t bear much the first year. Plants will produce a full crop the second year and two to four seasons after. Once production dwindles, new plants need to go in. Start a new patch the year your existing one is in its last season so you don’t skip a year of fruit.
For maximum yield, never let plants be stressed by lack of water. Keep newly set strawberries well irrigated with about 1 to 1½ inches of water a week, but don’t saturate the soil. Strawberries dislike wet feet.
Annual renovation is necessary for June bearers but not day neutral or everbearing. After plants have finished producing berries, use a string trimmer or rotary mower and cut plants to about 2 inches above the crown. Remove the debris, but don’t rake vigorously or you will damage the crowns.
Strawberries are susceptible to verticillium wilt so it is a good idea to rotate beds periodically. Spotted wing drosophila can be a pest. The best control is to keep your beds clean. Pick berries regularly, avoid a wet environment and keep runners pruned. The natural pesticide spinosad—sold under various brands—is one of the best treatments.