University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article


GROWING STRAWBERRIES

 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
A real joy of edible gardening is being able to pick your own strawberries that you grew yourself.  Growing your own you'll usually save money, know what chemicals, if any, are on your berries, get some good exercise and relaxation, and usually have plenty to easily store for later.

The first step for successful strawberry growing is to choose a proper site.  This is one that isn't in a low area that is particularly subject to cold downdrafts or frosts.  The site should have well-drained soil, and be weed free.  Weeds compete with strawberries for water and nutrients, reducing their vigor or crowding them out.  Wet soils foster rots and other diseases. If you didn't prepare a bed last year with weeding or cover crops, then make sure to use mulches after planting and keep up with weeding regularly. 
           
Best is to test your soil for nutrients, particularly to make sure your soil pH is around 6.  If lower, you'll need to add lime before planting.  Soil test results from your local Extension system can tell this as well as any other nutrients needed.  If you don't test your soil, add a complete fertilizer (one to two pounds per 100 square feet) only when the plants have begun growth and the production of runners. Make sure to not get on leaves, and water in after application. Adding an inch or two of compost on the surface yearly helps growth.
           
Once you have a site picked and readied, choose appropriate cultivars (cultivated varieties) for your area.  Buying ones locally at a complete garden store or nursery is often an easy way to get the right choices.   If ordered from catalogs or online, keep in mind some cultivars are better suited to warmer climates or uses such as processing.  Try and choose cultivars resistant to some of the main strawberry diseases. Consider what you want to do with the fruit.  When do you want to pick? Most cultivars are good eaten, some are better for jams.
           
Most are familiar with picking strawberries, or seeing them for sale fresh, in June.  The majority of cultivars are in this group, called appropriately "June-bearers".  Then there is a group called "everbearers" (you may see the term "day neutral" too, which is slightly different but usually lumped together).  These produce less, but often larger, fruits in June and then more throughout summer for a total production similar to the June-bearers.  If you want to pick and store your berries all at once, choose the former.  If you want to have fresh berries to pick through the summer, choose the latter.
           
Spring is the time to plant, as soon as soil is workable.  Frosts seldom damage the dormant plants, and rooting can start before tops begin growth. When planting, there are a couple of crucial activities, and a choice to make first.  The choice is whether to plant in rows or hills.  The "matted row" method is so called since the plants send out runners that you push back into the row, forming a mat.  This is the method most use, especially for June-bearers.   If you plant in hills, the usual method for everbearers, you'll remove the runners.  This results in larger plants and berries.  The rows may be easier to maintain and to keep weeded.
           
The crucial points to follow when planting are depth and watering.  Plant the condensed woody stem, called the "crown", at the soil surface.  Too deep and it will rot, too shallow and it will dry out.  Then when planted, water well and keep plants well-watered through the season.  Strawberry roots are relatively shallow, so dry out easily.  Keep this in mind too when weeding, so you avoid breaking too many with a hoe.  Hand weeding near plants is best.
           
To help keep weeds away, some use plastic between plants and along rows, covered with an organic material such as straw, or you can just use the latter without plastic below.  Other materials are pine needles, shredded leaves, or wood chips.  Avoid weedy hay and grass clippings that mat down.
           
For June-bearers, it is important to remove blossoms the first year so the plants can get established.  You can stop doing this in mid-summer for the everbearers.  If using rows, keep the runners pushed or swept back into the rows periodically.
          
June-bearers form their flower buds the fall prior, so it is important to make sure plants are well-watered in late summer and early fall.  If you didn't use an organic fertilizer earlier, reapply an organic or synthetic fertilizer then at the same rate as earlier. 
           
Since strawberries are sensitive to severe cold, you'll want to cover plants when the hard frosts begin to freeze the soil surface.  Straw is most commonly used, but evergreen boughs or other light and fluffy materials work too.  Once the chance of hard frosts (below 28 degrees F) is over in spring, uncover plants and use the straw for mulch.  Keep a spun-woven fabric for frost protection handy to throw over plants if frosts are predicted.  The flowers are most sensitive to cold, and if frosted will develop black centers and of course no fruit.
           
Keeping plants well-watered before and during harvest results in the best fruit.  You may want to get some bird netting to cover rows or your hills, held down with stakes (wooden stakes angled away from the plants, tent stakes, or "ground staples" such as heavy duty bent wire).  Harvest fruit when they are ripe, as they wont ripen further.  You can often figure about one to  two pounds of yield per plant, 15 to 20 pounds for a 20-foot row. 
           
If plants are vigorous you can renovate rows of June-bearers for another 2 or 3 years of harvests.  Everbearers in hills can be left for 3 or more years before you'll need to replant. 
 

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