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The Homeowners Column
Time to Plant Strawberries
State Master Gardener Coordinator
Strawberries are my favorite fruit for backyard grazing. I'm not alone since strawberries are the most popular small fruits for backyard gardens. They are first to ripen in spring and highly nutritious. A single cup of fresh strawberries supplies more than the minimum daily requirement of vitamin C. They are relatively easy to grow and dependable.
Strawberries are best planted in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked and before the heat of summer. Be sure to plant at the correct depth. Plant so the soil level is just above where the roots begin. In other words don't bury the crown or leave the roots exposed.
Three types of strawberries are grown in Illinois - spring or June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearers such as (in order of ripening) Earliglow, Honeoye, Seneca, Jewel and Allstar produce their crop in a two to three week period in spring. Everbearers such as Ozark Beauty usually produce three flushes of flowers and fruits throughout the season in spring, summer and fall. Day neutrals such as Tristar and Tribute will flower and fruit continually through the season. In a home garden a mix of cultivars works well for continuous production. Supplemental watering is needed for good summer production of strawberries.
The matted row system of planting is the most popular method for growing spring bearing varieties. The plants are set 24 inches apart in rows two to four feet apart. The runner plants are allowed to root freely to form a matted row about two feet wide.
The hill system is the best method to grow everbearing and day neutral cultivars. All runners are removed so that only the original mother plant is left to grow. Runners develop from the same region as flower stalks so runner removal enables the mother plant to develop numerous crowns and more flower stalks. Multiple rows are often arranged in groups of two, three or four plants with a two foot walkway between each group of rows.
Strawberries will grow in just about any soil, but the best production will be in well-drained and highly fertile soils in a sunny location. Before planting work in well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Or apply 15 to 20 pounds of 10-20-20 fertilizer or equivalent per 1000 square feet and work into the top six inches of soil.
Straw mulch can be applied after planting. Strawberry flowers should be removed the first year of planting. I know its tough removing the flowers, but the first year of growth should be left to establishment of the plants and not production.
Strawberries are generally free of insects and diseases. Most diseases can be remedied by proper maintenance and disease resistant varieties.
Picnic bugs can be abundant on established plantings if overripe fruit is not removed regularly. Slugs can also be a problem. Slug bait pesticides are available, but care should be taken when using baits especially around small children and pets. Read and follow all label directions. Slugs can be trapped and removed each morning by placing boards or house shingles in the beds.
Established strawberry beds should be renovated each year after harvest to improve production and reduce diseases.
For more information on planting and maintaining strawberries, contact University of Illinois Extension Champaign County at 801 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign (333-7672) for the publication - Small Fruits in the Home Garden for $5.
Idea Garden Workshop
Saturday April 29 at 10:00 am
What's new in plants and containers by Josh Schneider, Master Gardener and owner of Mourning Dove Farms. No registration or fee. The Idea Garden is located on south Lincoln Avenue (just south of Florida Avenue) at U of I Arboretum.