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The Homeowners Column
Strawberries – an easy to grow treat
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Few home grown fruits offer the easy growing and luscious eating attributes of strawberries. A small investment in plants and time now will yield several years of backyard glee in grazing the strawberry patch.
Strawberries are best planted in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, usually early April. Be sure to plant at the correct depth so the soil level is just above the roots. Don't bury the short compressed stem called a crown or leave the roots exposed. Water thoroughly after planting and keep moist through the summer. Strawberries need about one inch of water per week.
Strawberries will grow in just about any soil, but the best production will be in well-drained and highly fertile soils in areas of at least 6 hours of direct sun. Before planting work in well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Or apply 1.5 to 2 pounds of 10-20-20 fertilizer or equivalent per 100 square feet and work into the top six inches of soil.
Avoid planting strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes have been recently grown. These plants could harbor verticillium wilt, a serious strawberry disease.
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. However the flowers of everbearers and day neutrals may be left on at the end of summer to allow one late crop the first year.
Strawberries are generally free of insects and diseases. Most diseases can be remedied with proper maintenance and disease resistant varieties.
Three types of strawberries are available – spring or June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearers such as (in order of ripening) Earliglow, Honeoye, Seneca, Jewel, Allstar and Ovation produce their crop in a two to three week period in spring. June-bearers produce flowers, fruits and plenty of runners. Strawberry plants produce "babies" at the end of above ground stems called runners. By selecting early, mid-season and late varieties of June bearers a gardener can stretch the season over several weeks. June bearers produce the biggest fruit.
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. Everbearers and day neutrals produce few runners so are better suited to small garden spaces.
In a home garden a mix of cultivars of June bearers and everbearers or day neutrals works well for continuous production. However supplemental watering is needed for good summer production of everbearing and day neutral strawberries. Soaker hoses or drip tubes are an efficient way to irrigate that also keeps the leaves dry to lessen disease problems.
The matted row system of planting is the most popular method for growing June bearing varieties. The plants are set 24 inches apart in rows 3 1/2 to 4-feet apart. The runner plants are allowed to root freely to form a matted row about 2-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.For more information visit http://urbanext.illinois.edu/strawberries/ or contact your local county University of Illinois Extension for the publication - Small Fruits in the Home Garden or to order PH: 1-800-345-6087 https://pubsplus.uiuc.edu/