After you’ve chosen the perfect site for your new strawberry patch, after you’ve worked its soil to be full of well-drained organic material and decided which row method you’re going to use and which cultivar you’ll grow (see “disease resistance” below); you’re ready to plant.
Planting your organic strawberry crop at the proper depth is important for their survival and longevity as well as their productivity. Before you get ready to set your plants, trim away all runners and any blossoms from them. Roots longer than five inches should also be trimmed.
Lots of us — okay, me — have had our shortcake hopes dashed because we placed strawberry plants too deeply, burying their crowns. Or we didn’t dig their hole deeply enough, so the roots could extend down instead of out.
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The crowns of the plant should be about half in and half out of the soil. Bury the crown completely and you’re inviting root rots. Plant with the crown entirely above the soil and it will dry out, preventing water from working its way from the roots to the stems, leaves and berries.
Scroll down this University of Minnesota Extension piece to see a good illustration of just how deeply the plant’s crown should be placed.
Getting the crowns at the right depth means holding them at the proper height as you fill soil in around the roots. Roots should extend downward, untangled but not fanned much beyond vertical. They’ll send secondary, horizontal roots out into the soil once the plant’s established.
It takes patience as you maintain crown depth to avoid crushing the roots together as you pile in the soil. But that patience will be rewarded. We’ve always found it helpful to enlist small hands (in other words, kids) to help with this process.
Strawberries are particularly susceptible to stress, so take care to plant them under the best conditions which means late afternoon to avoid sun shock. Water each plant immediately after setting it out and be careful not to let wilted leaves be watered down to the soil. That’s where fungus lurks.
To encourage healthy growth, pluck the blossoms that appear on June-bearing fruit that first season. Ever-bearing strawberries should be allowed to blossom after the plants have become established. They’ll produce a crop in the fall.
Fertilize your new plants with a balanced fertilizer two weeks after planting and then again a month later (at six weeks). Strawberries need to be watered well each week. Supply an inch of water (adjust if Mother Nature’s sent rain your way) every seven days. Make sure there’s a thorough watering right after plants blossom and keep the water coming, even after harvest, right through late summer and into fall.
Because water is important and stress is a problem, keep your strawberry patch weed-free. This will also make pinning runners easier when the time comes.
You can encourage established June-bearing plants to put out runners (which will create new plants) by trimming leaves and stems after harvest. We’ve known folks with big patches to run their lawnmowers over them at a high setting. Don’t damage the crowns if you try this method.
Planted with care, strawberries have few problems with diseases in the higher, Western regions. On the other hand, all kinds of pests and diseases attack strawberries in warmer, humid climes. Here’s a good guide from Clemson University that details the kinds of pests and diseases encountered in warm, coastal South Carolina. And here’s one for the mountainous West from Colorado State University.
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When choosing cultivars, talk to local nurserymen or growers to find out which varieties carry disease resistance appropriate to your area. Selecting disease resistant strains goes along way towards avoiding problems. Mr. Strawberry at has a comprehensive list of strawberry varieties and their strengths at StrawberryPlants.org.
Birds are always a problem when there are berries on the plants. Putting the plants under row covers can help, but birds seem to find a way to work under them. Suspended netting can be effective if anchored with stones or soil to the ground. We always resign ourselves to losing some fruit to birds and happy if we, rather than they, get the bulk of it.
Overwinter your plants with plenty of mulch, say two to three inches, and make sure it doesn’t blow away (this is one time that snow, with its insulating properties, is a bonus). Strawberries don’t take well to alternating freezes and thaws. You want that soil temperature to stay even, even during those January cold snaps.
Leave the mulch on into the spring, even if you notice the plants starting to show signs of growth. You don’t want to encourage plants to start growing, blooming, or fruiting too early. Mulch will slow their growth until odds of frost damage to blossoms has diminished. Again, patience will be rewarded.
Some strawberry patches, with good care, and luck will still be productive in five years. But if not, it’s time to start the cycle again.
Three years or so into your patch you’ll start to noticed that your plants will start to produce less berries. It might be time to start another patch, if you have the space, right next to your current patch.
Working a few plants around the edges of your landscape before you tear out your mature patch will give you enough berries to stir memories if not make dessert before the new patch is established. And their cheery white blossoms will add early interest to your garden as your new plants produce their first harvest.
Do we need to tell you how to harvest (frequently) when berries are in blush? Didn’t think so.
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