Set Up a Strawberry Bed
Edited by Monika, Lynn, Eng
What could be tastier than strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie made with fresh strawberries from your own garden?
Strawberries are an easy crop, and you can plant a strawberry bed that could ultimately give you lots of delicious berries for several years. A few plants will go a long way, since, under the right conditions, one strawberry plant produces about a quart of strawberries in a season. Just think how good that could be.
Here are some tips and helpful hints for planting and harvesting strawberries so that you can be enjoying these tasty and nutritious treats by next summer.
Choosing Your Growing Method
It's up to the gardener to choose his or her growing method, as there are several ways of planting a strawberry bed. Depending on the variety of strawberries you prefer, these will work equally well.
Matted Row System
Probably the most common growing option for June harvesting is the matted row system. This method lets the strawberry plant runners grow, which can provide a bigger yield. However, the fruit will usually be smaller than the ones grown in the hill or mound system.
Using this method, plant the strawberry plants at least 18-24 inches apart and space the rows three to four feet apart. The runners are allowed to root freely and they will form a criss-cross or matted row. The optimum density of plants in the mat system is five within a square foot.
When this density has been achieved, the remaining runners should be removed; otherwise the plants could become more susceptible to disease, have misshapen fruit, and result in smaller berries and lower yields.
Hill or Mound System
The other method is the hill or mound system. Ever-bearing and day neutral strawberries do well using this system. You start by making soil mounds or hills roughly 8 inches high by 24 inches wide. Two plants are then set in a chevron or staggered placement, with the plants about a foot apart,, and if you are having several rows, these should be about 3-4 feet apart.
Runners are all removed from each plant. All productive energy is therefore left within the mother plant, resulting in larger and better berries. There are two versions of this system - the double and the single hedgerow or spaced-row. These methods work the same as the mound system, except a few of the runners are allowed to grow.
Choosing the Plants
There are three basic types of strawberry plants - day neutral, June-bearing and ever-bearing, but there are many other actual strawberry varieties. Do some research to find out which varieties are best for growing in your area, and for the conditions you have where you plan to set up your strawberry beds.
The day neutral varieties such as Seascape, Selva, Tribute and Tristar, don't have many runners, so they will work well for the hill or mound method. Keep in mind that they will have smaller fruit than the June-bearing plants, however smaller fruit is often sweeter.
June-bearing plants provide one harvest per year. They make lots of runners, so work well for the matted row method. Examples of June-bearing fruit are Allstar, Brunswick, Cabot, and Jewell, but there are dozens of other cultivars.
Ever-bearing plants give you two or three harvests in spring, summer and fall. They, too, don't have many runners, so will work well for the matted growing method. Some examples are Fort Laramie and Quinault.
Testing and Preparing the Soil
Test the pH of the soil where you intend to set up the strawberry bed. It should be between 5.5 and 6.5 pH for best results. Till the soil and fertilize it with about two inches of well composted material. Mix the compost into the soil and add enough soil to make a raised bed or the mounds required.
Use a balanced type of fertilizer such as 10-10-10 and be sure not to over fertilize or you will have more leaves than flowers. Plus, they should not be grown where plants such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or eggplants have been grown recently, or they could be susceptible to verticillium wilt.
Don't forget that strawberries need well drained soil and they should be well watered regularly to ensure lovely juicy fruit.
Planting and Growing Strawberries
Remove any weeds from your intended strawberry area. From the plants, remove old leaves, flowers and runners and trim the roots to about four or five inches in length.
As soon as the soil is workable in the spring, put the plants into the soil with the roots fanning out and the crown even with the top of the soil. Be careful not to plant too shallowly or too deeply.
When runners start to appear, train them into rows by gently pressing the runners into the soil and placing a rock on them or use a bent piece of gardening wire about 3-4 inches long on each side to hold them down in the soil until the new roots grow. Don't be tempted to cut the runners off the mother plants.
You can use mulch in between your plants to regulate the soil temperature and to keep weeds at bay. Straw is a good choice. To get a good crop of strawberries, be sure to avoid using plastic around the plants, because it will make the soil too warm and could hold too much moisture, making the soil overly wet.
If your plants are day neutral or ever-bearing, you should take the flowers off for the first few weeks after planting them so they store up nutrients for fruit production. If they are June-bearing, do not remove the flowers, as their growing period is considerably shorter.
Watch Out for Pests
Just like every other crop, you need to watch for the pests that will also enjoy these tasty treats. Some pests include fruit rot, root rot, and verticillium wilt.
To give yourself an easier life, choose strawberry varieties bred to be resistant to these problems.
You also have to watch out for birds, snails, and the tarnished plant bug, Lygus lineolaris. Along with strawberries the tarnished plant bugs are hosts for cherries, apples, carrots, lima beans, pears, cotton, snap beans, alfalfa, peaches, soybeans, and tomatoes.
These pests not only spread plant diseases, but they also cause yellowed or distorted terminal growth and can make the buds fail to develop. Once the plants begin to show budding fruits, cover them with bird netting, as even a few hungry birds can wipe out your entire crop.
Wait until they are fully ripe to get the sweetest and best tasting strawberries. Pick them a couple days after they turn red, but be sure to protect them meanwhile.
Harvest your berries gently since they are fragile and can be easily bruised. It's best to snap them off with a bit of the stem and not to pull on the berries themselves.
All in all, strawberries are relatively easy to grow. Simply follow the suggestions above and you, too, could be enjoying lovely, juicy strawberries.
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Categories : Gardening
Recent edits by: Lynn, Monika