Strawberries are one of those delectable summer treats that always taste best when picked and eaten straight off the plant. Those in colder climates that experience severe Winters and ground freezing often plant Strawberries in Autumn or Early Spring.
Gardeners in colder climates that experience severe Winters and ground freezing often plant Strawberries in Autumn or Early Spring. Those that live in milder climates experiencing no worse that infrequent frosts or light freezing can continue planting Strawberries throughout the Winter months. This way the plants are well established before they begin to flower and set fruit in Spring. When planted from advanced container-grown plants, and transplanted with little if any root disturbance, Strawberries can be planted into the early days of Summer.
Strawberries are easily grown in most loamy soils and even heavy, well-drained land that stays moist. In sandy soil add extra well-aged manure, peat or mature compost to build up the organic content and water storing capacity of the soil. In very heavy clay soils liberally spread Gypsum Lime before planting. Water this in to the consistency of whole milk and let it settle into the land. In a few weeks time the colloidal properties of Gypsum will begin to open the soil allowing freer drainage.
Full sun is important to developing full flavour and highest sugar content. Strawberry does best when planted in quite a warm and sheltered position away from very strong, chilling winds. But good air circulation around the plants is very important as this helps keep down blights and rotting disease. For this reason they are often grown 20cm apart each way in an open position. When considering where best to start a really successful Strawberry patch always remember that Strawberries are a subtropical fruit and really require those very warm conditions to produce the best crops.
Dedicated Strawberry connoisseurs cultivate deeply and feed the soil with super phosphate, bone dust, blood and bone, and a little sulphate of potash. Organic Growers rely on generous applications of well rotten manures or compost. Where blights have been a problem also add extra dolomite or garden lime. This is well dug in, water thoroughly and allowed to settle for a week or more before planting.
Traditionally, new Strawberry plants can be started from container-grown or bare-root stock or from runners taken from mature plants. Runners must have at least some roots attached before they can be cut away from the parent plant. This usually happens quite naturally. But whenever a Strawberry runner doesn't produce roots, simply peg down the runner with a small mound of earth, stone or wire. Make sure that the ground beneath the tiny plant at the end of the runner has been roughened so that the emerging young roots can easily penetrate the soil. Once the tiny plant no longer lifts away from the ground, probably it has developed sufficient roots that it can be cut away from the parent plant and shifted to its permanent growing position.
When planting Strawberries, it is important that each crown remain slightly above the soil line with roots outstretched in all directions and pressed firmly into the ground. When planted too deeply crowns will often rot in cool, wet weather. This is easy to happen when planting into freshly cultivated earth on flat planting sites. While the young plant may appear to sit flush with the fluffy soil at first, after repeated watering or rainfall, the land will possibly settle and subside. Also the Strawberry roots, as they develop and spread out, will begin to anchor and pull the plant deeper into the soil.
This results in the Strawberry crown settling into a small depression which allows water to collect and pool around the crown often resulting in rot or fungal diseases during sustained spells of cold wet weather. For this reason Strawberries are often planted on raised rows, small mounds of earth or sloping sites. This allows excessive water to always run away from the Strawberry crown. But during their growing season make certain that flowering and bearing plants remain well watered especially if conditions become dry or droughty. Strawberry crops are quickly ruined by dry, hot weather if the ground ever becomes baked and dry.
Strawberry plants greatly benefit from mulching. Mulches prevent weeds and keep ripening fruits off the ground. This is important as most fungal spores reside in the soil. These spores can be splashed up upon developing fruit during watering or rainfall resulting in fungal attack. Fruit that rest upon protective mulch seldom have this problem. Mulches could be cardboard, books of newspaper, carpet, boards or organic materials such as fluffy, crushed leaves, granulated bark, dried grass clippings, pine needles, spoilt hay, or straw, thus the name: STRAW-berry.
Commercial Growers often prefer to plant directly into weed mat or black plastic which helps keep soil evenly moist and sub-tropically warm. This warmer soil greatly speeds ripening to produce an earlier harvest for the markets. Plastic mulches stop almost all weeds and spread of fungal spores onto the developing fruits.
For those in wet sites or very rainy climates, it is often better to continue open cultivation over the Winter. This way the soil remains light and airy and has less opportunity to compact or become sour and sodden. In Spring once the soil has thoroughly warmed then lay the mulch.
Once established, Strawberries do require a fair amount of feeding in order to produce the best crops. Side-dress occasionally with a good general plant food once growth increases in Spring. This can be with a good quality balanced General Plant Food, a special commercial Strawberry Food or an organic fertiliser blend with a higher Phosphorous and Potash ratio than Nitrogen that would produce mostly foliage. Something in the ratio of 10-10-10 or 5-10-10 would be ideal. Little and often best suits Strawberry feeding. Avoid letting any caustic chemical fertiliser drift up against Strawberry crowns or chemical burning could result. Always apply fertilisers to well-watered plants and then water-in the fertiliser immediately after application.
Strawberry plants can also be grown in containers, hanging baskets, raised beds and window boxes. This has become a popular adaptation for their cultivation in urban environments where garden space is limited. Because Strawberry plants have a rather extensive if shallow root system, they demand rather a lot of root space for successful growth. A common mistake is to plant several Strawberry plants into a rather small basket or pot. While this may appear quite decorative at the time, soon the plants will fill the entire container with roots.
Then as Summer warmth and fruiting begins, their demand for feeding and watering will considerably increase. This often results in the need for daily watering and extra feeding. Soon they become far too dry and hot then suddenly cool and wet. This leads to plant stress and disease. And if they ever dry out, the leaves wither or burn and the crop is often damaged or ruined. The lessons here: ‘less is more’ when it comes to smaller containers; and always plant Strawberries in generous sized containers or large window boxes or bigger raised beds and planter boxes and if possible put them on an automatic drip irrigation system to keep them evenly moist.
Instead of discarding old Strawberry plants they can often be recycled into the home garden landscape. These make excellent ground covers for annual, perennial and mixed garden beds, borders, meadow gardens, moist banks, along streams and ponds, in woodland gardens, near paths, as well as in raised beds or terraced 'hanging' gardens. The wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, is also an excellent subject for this purpose.
Older recycled Strawberry plants may not ever again bear heavy crops but usually soon they will develop runners that can start bearing at least limited crops within a year. If these runners are removed from the old recycled parent and shifted to a proper Strawberry bed, they will bear crops of a similar quality to what their parents once did. But if the recycled parents and their children are left to grow on happily in their new garden environment, future crops may be reduced when grown in part shade or a bit neglected and over-crowded, but the overall effect is still going to be beautifully delicious!
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