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  A Publication of UVM Extension's Vermont Vegetable and Berry Program

Grower Views on Strawberry Varieties

by Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension

Picking the right varieties is a key decision for strawberry growers. The problem is, while there are many varieties to choose from, only a small portion of them will meet the needs of an individual farm in terms of hardiness, yield, disease resistance, berry size, flavor, and appearance.

In northern climates with cold winter temperatures, hardiness is a priority. Disease resistance is a priority on farms that have grown berries for many years with limited land for rotation, or on farms that have heavy, wetter soils. For many pick-your own farms, flavor is at the top of the list. Wholesale growers need firm fruit. And of course, most growers want to have berries for as long a possible over the relatively short ‘strawberry season’.

Ultimately, you have to grow a berry variety on your own farm to see if it has the blend of characteristics that you, and your customers, want. It makes sense to test varieties on a small scale before making large plantings.

The following views on varieties were provided by growers on the Vermont vegetable nd berry listserv in July 2016. Note that local climate, soil type and production practices can influence the traits described, so performance from farm to farm may differ.

"We grow matted row. Organic. No renovating on this farm. Our early berry has been Sable, no longer available after this season’s pick, so trying Wendy and Galletta for next year. Mid-season is Cavendish; love it. Still picking second week of July. It can get a bit dark in color and uneven ripening but yield, flavor and how long you can pick it for are fantastic; great big berries too! Jewel is next to ripen. Nice color, size and yield. Good flavor. Some leaf disease. Can be a bit vigorous plant growth during growth year. Valley Sunset comes after Jewel. Our third year growing it; a tad light in color, but yield and flavor are excellent for being so late. Holds nice big size for at least 4 picks. Malawina is last to ripen. Not the best yield, but super color and flavor and two weeks after anything else is being picked it’s ready."

"We use spaced matted row system on raised beds. Certified organic production. All the following show some resistance to leaf spot and root diseases. Wendy- my favorite early with better yield than Earliglow and excellent flavor. Cavendish- old warhorse, a favorite for quantity of large, excellent flavored berries. Long harvest season, from early mid to late season. The irregular ripening (white shoulders and sides) late in the season doesn't bother PYO customers who taste them. Flavorfest- we've grown these for two years now. Large, shiny, unusual fruity flavor that many customers love but causes some to move on; mid-season. Rubicon- low yield, great flavor, large. Low yield will remove them from our line-up. Sparkle- late mid-season, comparatively small with short shelf life but incomparably wonderful flavor. If you prune runners you can get the size up. The only berry PYO customers ask for by name, we have to keep growing it. What we use for jam and freezing. Jewel- beautiful, shiny berry, late mid-season. The best, along with early Cavendish, for wholesale to stores because it has great shelf life and appearance. Also great flavor. Monterey - my favorite for hoop house production. Best yield and flavor of the everbearers we have tried. We don't grow any true late varieties because TPB builds up over the season making very late berries unmarketable. Besides, after early July, customers seem to want to move on to blueberries and other berries."

"We use organic matted row production.Standards for us last few years...Sable- early, delicious, size decreases quickly. we pick 2 or 3 times and then allow PYO. Despite small size later it is very popular because of excellent taste. Bad news, our supplier will no longer offer it for sale, and we have not found an alternative nursery. Cavendish- early mid, great taste and yields. Keeps going and going. Only real drawback is it can be very dark if not picked on time. Still a great fruit at that stage, but its dark color freaks some uneducated people out. Too bad for them, it rocks! Jewel- mid. Super good taste and usually decent yields. We sometimes have trouble with it not holding size in later pickings. Thin skin has exploded on us in very rainy Junes. Have been enjoying later varieties Valley Sunset and Malwina. Both have great taste and seemingly decent yields for such a late fruit. Both really help us get to 4-5 or more weeks total matted row harvest. Will be planting a greater proportion of these in future seasons. Wendy seems only likely sub for Sable. tasty, but more susceptible to disease as far as we can tell. Past few years have been trying ...Flavorfest- just after Cavendish. Powerful tangy taste. Some love it, some don’t prefer it, but it is beautiful and flavorful and initial yields have been great. Rubicon- similar time to Flavorfest. like the taste a lot, but it came off the plants fairly small right from the get go for us. Sonata- good all around, but nothing special as far as potentially replacing our standards. This is our first year trying day neutrals under Dubois low tunnels with plastic mulch beds. So far a lot of work and expense for special hoops and hand planting, but feedback from growers who have toiled with them has been all positive if you have direct markets so margins can stay positive. We just started picking about 10th of July from mid-May planting. Plants look great. Two biggest challenges will be to manage insects and fertility organically over a potential 3 month fruiting season."

"We use fall planted plug plug production: Clery and Jewel from Nova Fruit with drip on 4' plastic, mulched through the winter with straw and pushed with row cover in the spring.  Production was down on both this year. Both Clery and jewel can be picked on the orange side without a lot of white tips.  Leaf spot has been an issue when we try and cary them over for a second year."

"May planted bare root on 4' plastic with drip and runners removed throughout the season. Mulched through winter with straw. All from Nourse Farm. Galleta had a hard time over the winter. Berry is a little round and seemed to be hit hard by tarnish plant bug. Production was not good. Clancy also had a hard time coming out of winter, slow to ripen berries with frustrating white tips, almost overripe when fully red. Production not good compared to Cabot which we were trying it instead of. Cavendish may have been the most productive variety this season with good flavor. Large king berries, lots of medium to small berries over a two-week period. Weird half white ripening where the berry sometimes doesn't ripen on a side or shoulder even though the rest of the berry is ripe to over ripe. Jewel: beautiful, delicious berry with acceptable production. Okay through the winter. AC Valley: Huge orange king berries, not bad tarnish plant bug damage this year, have lost a lot of it in the past, very soft skin a lot of berries got damaged by some heavy rain. Not great flavor. Record: They all seem to come at once for one great week of picking. Beautiful berries, acceptable but not remarkable flavor. Malwina: hasn't even ripped yet, 10th of July."

"We grow in conventional matted row." In a good year like this, all the varieties look good, mostly. But unlike 30 years ago, the market is being driven by the California berry, for both consumers and produces. Old varieties with dark color--Sparkle, Bounty, Del Marvel are on the outs. People are looking for the more orangey large conical fruit like they see in the clamshells at in February. We have had perfectly good fruit turned away at the stores because it was off color. So we have moved into varieties that mimic what people are used to the rest of the year. Leaf spot resistance is also important for us. Wendy: we tried this Jameson introduction for some years, but ultimately went back to Annapolis, for the same season. Annapolis is early, good flavor but a tad soft, like Darroyal (which is a bit more prone to leaf spot.) Production of both is adequate and dependable but they are in the mix because they are early. Cavendish is still a workhorse and tasty and we don’t experience the "ghostberry" ripening as much as other growers have said. Lamour is a really attractive fruit and can be very aromatic, but in some years can be a bit of a shy producer. Tried Sonata this year and it was ok, we will give it a few more years before we decide whether to keep it. We are on new ground so we are back in the Cabot business. It has great size and flavor if ripened, fills that post-Cavendish niche and we are having better luck renovating it. This year they were cranking in the second year bed and really contributed along with the Valley Sunsets for July 4th sales. Valley Sunset is currently our late berry. It tends to be a bit soft, but is a handsome berry with great flavor and productivity in the late season. Have tried Record, Mayflower- they were dogs- and will have some Malwinas fruiting next year and am hearing great things about them from a couple of growers who have fruited them."

"We have been using matted row but last year tried plasticulture. We tried row cover as winter mulch but most was shredded by deer and now lives in the trees around the farm. Neighbors not impressed and the plasticulture yields were really low - especially in spots where the remay disappeared. We are sticking with matted row for next year but may try plasticulture in the future using normal mulch over the plants! We also have never sprayed any fungicide, insecticide or herbicide, this year was our first success with renovation, and disease pressure was the least we have ever had. I think the renovation did better since we fertilized well with 8-2-2 Kreher’s. Weed pressure is unrelenting however. Earliglow - great taste but we have discontinued due to low productivity. AC Wendy - great flavored early berry, this year they did great, but in the past the plants have always looked less healthy than other varieties with more leaf disease. They did better after renovation than the year after first being planted. Honeyoye -  This is our healthiest, most productive variety.  It runners like crazy and we end up spending a lot of time cutting them back. Flavor is not that great until they are dark, dark red.  and they seem to be as susceptible to grey mold as any varieties. But they are our best and longest producing variety and keep the PYO customers happy/busy. Jewel - these taste great and do almost as good for us as the Honeyoye, not quite as high a yield, larger king berry, excellent flavor.  They runner a bit less robustly and did not do as well with rennovation. Sparkle - great flavor, but small and very mushy berries, the green top tends to pop off when picked.  OK for PYO though lower yielding than other varieties, terrible for us to pick and sell since they are small and mushy and hard to get to market intact.  We have discontinued them as well."

"We grow on matted rows and mulch with straw. Sparkle- tastes the sweetest, is late, vigorous grower, small berries tend to be soft, customer favorite. Cavendish- tastes very good, firmer, med. early, white tips, good yields. Cabot-HUGE berries, taste ok, can get sunscald, easy to pick. Annapolis- early, good taste, low yields. Jewel-even red color, good taste, good yields, good size. This has been a low yield and short strawberry season here in Barnet. I think no snow and a dry spring, as well as heavy cedar waxwing pressure are to blame. Flash tape and scare eye balloons used to work for us."

"We converted to organic production about 10 years ago. While we seemed to be managing TPB adequate, this year it really nailed us. I had gone back to a boom sprayer so as to avoid spreading leaf spot with a mist blower. I don’t think I am getting great coverage compared to the mist blower. This was our 23rd picking season and every year I think I know less about growing strawberries than I use to. The challenges continue. We plant every year with matted row. For PYO matted row is great. The plasticulture with crowns is promising but we still don’t match the production of a good matted row. We have continued with Cavendish, Jewel and Cabot and a bit of Valley Sunset. Cavendish continues to be incredibly productive and has excellent size over the whole season. It comes early enough for us that we are not using much Wendy anymore. Jewel is a great berry The one main drawback is that it seems to be more susceptible to leafspot. We primarily have Mycospharella leaf spot. We have been trying to manage it with one or two copper sprays early in the season. A great berry for PYO and wholesaling.  Jewel seemed to have less issues than our other varieties. My favorite variety for flavor. Cabot has done well planting it close and on plastic. PYO customers really like it. It is a bit haphazard in its shape so tend to not rely on it for wholesaling. Seems to do well as crowns planted on plastic. Valley Sunset is nice for the late, although we often don’t manage the TPB well on the late variety. I seem to stop spraying once the PYO season starts and the TPB finds this variety. It sure is nice to have large berries late in the season. Not all that wild about the flavor."

"We are conventional growing in matted row. Wendy: early good yield, size, ok color and flavor. Plants can be a little weak and prone to leaf diseases. Daroyal is a strong growing plant. It is Honeoye season. Color is similar to Honeoye but flavor is much more acceptable. Yield and size is good. Older plantings can get to thick and picking speed is slow. Honeoye is still our friend; it yields very well and loves our soil. This strawberry makes the best jam. Customers need to hear this. Market this variety’s zesty flavor. We all know Honeoye is too dark and if over-ripe has that metallic flavor. Cavendish: the king berries are beautiful, flavor among the best but after the second pick the un-even coloring shows us any ugly appearing berry. Galletta: first year with this one. Seemed like a low yield. Quality was ok, flavor excellent. Jewel: we grow the most acreage of this variety. It responds well to good care and the best of conditions. Lots of straw helps keep the berries clean. When this fruit touches the soil they often rot. Early applications of the right fungicides are very helpful here in Vermont. Jewel picks with ease. The color is the best. The flavor is the best if the nights are cool and the days are sunny. In 2016 we did well with Jewel. In 2015 a heavy shot of rain in early July turned the Jewel to mush. Valley Sunset ripens after Jewel. It takes the strong thunderstorms much better than Jewel. Yield is down, berries are softer. This variety likes space and good conditions. A heavier soil will make it later. Mayflower: takes wet conditions quite well. Flavor is ok, color is excellent. Picking speed is moderate because it hides its fruit. Seems like good disease resistance. Yield is half of Jewel. Malwina: very late. Color is dark, flavor good, size ok, yields are often low. This variety is so late that I keep separate from early varieties. It needs to be sprayed to control tarnished plant bug and maybe SWD. Runner production is slow with Malwina. Lots of strange things about this variety. I need to learn how to grow it."        

"Generally I use plasticulture with spring planted bare root plants. Certified Organic. #1: Jewel. Pros: Great taste, Firm enough for wholesaling (but not too firm), strong plants that are not particularly disease prone, winter hardy, king berry is good size, but not too big. Con: Fruit after the king berry on the cluster isn't nearly as big, as a result maybe not the highest yield, but haven't directly measured that. #2 Wendy: Pros: Good taste, consistently good sized berries on the cluster, good firmness but not too firm. #3: still working on that."

"We grow in a plasticulture system using organic methods. Strawberries seem to be more challenging as of late due to our increasingly wet Junes. Flavorfest was our new mid-season standout. It had consistent size, minimum leaf spot issues, relatively long fruiting period and as the name suggests, good flavor. Our dogs this year were Wendy due to the fruits overly soft skin and susceptibility to anthracnose and Cabot whose cracking, splitting over all hollowness are problematic for organic production."

"I use organic matted row. Tried Flavorfest for the first time. and am not impressed. The plants overwintered and filled in the row well. The problem was that the bloom was scanty. The flower clusters were buried under dense foliage, making them hard to reach with sprays. Nice flavor, but poor yield. I had a crummy strawberry year.  The Cabot variety looked like it shrank in the drier. Just a miniature version of itself. I attribute this to lack of snow cover. I also had Jewel. This is not a good variety for me, as it blooms late enough that I find it impossible to keep the TPB off them. I never had a lot, only about 1 nymph per cluster. This was enough to ruin the crop. Sprayed a lot of Pyganic, which did nothing. I am going to start over. I have had poor results with fall planting. This attempt with a spring planting did no better. I have to get a very early bloom to beat the TPB, as no spray works."

"Sable proved to be the best yielder two years running in trials Dave Handley did in Maine. I gave it a try when I lived in Maine, and now in New Hampshire it fills a large portion of our PYO field. Sable has the best overall flavor of all varieties. It combines the best qualities of Earliglow and Sparkle. It is sweet, very fruity, and with very little tartness.  Of course, taste favorites are different among people. Some people like sour, crunchy berries. Sable is an early berry, but the picking season is pretty long. Sable does drop off in size quite quickly, but the berries do not get tiny, only small. That could be a problem for some.    Just as Dave found in his trials, the overall yield for us is among the best of the varieties we grow (Jewel, Honeyoe, Cavendish, Sparkle, and about a half dozen others). The problem with Sable is that for some reason none of the nurseries in the US seem to carry it. Please tell me if you can find it anywhere. We have to get it from G.W. Allen in Nova Scotia and it is expensive to get the paper work to bring it across the border."

"I'm a first year grower, so here are my inexperienced observations. July planted bare-root berries on plastic. Covered through winter with two layers row cover. Wendy- good yields but I lost a bunch of berries to frost. Honeoye- great producer, leaf disease resistant. Jewel- sucked. Had about 50% winter loss. Cabot-strange gnarly un-sellable king berries, but the rest of the berries were great. Flavor of all was great!"

"I follow organic practices using matted row. I've been alternating between Cavendish and Sparkle. Putting in about 400 plants per year, keeping the plantings producing for 2 to 3 years. Not having tried growing other varieties it's difficult to compare. but yields seem very good, timing of both seems to be mid-season, color looks nice. Both taste very sweet, Sparkle more so. But the Sparkle are small, which was fine when I was only growing them for pick-your-own but we ended up also harvesting them for sale this year -- of course, everyone loved them. I've twice had cyclamen mites turn up in plantings of Cavendish -- but I'm not sure if that's anything to do with the variety itself or just luck of what got shipped to me. The goats are equally happy to renovate either variety. Plants, in general, have stayed very healthy."

For additional strawberry variety information, see:

Published: August 2011. Revised July 2014.
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