Grow Garden Fresh Strawberries

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite spring activities was picking wild strawberries. My sister and I would fill up our bowls with the tiny berries, then bring them inside, cover them in sugar, and devour them.

The modern strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) is a cross between two wild American species: the Virginia “scarlet” strawberry, the one I loved so much as a child, and the Chilean strawberry. Early explorers collected plants of both species, and brought them back to Europe, where a chance cross resulted in our modern strawberry. The cross was first referred to as the “pineapple” strawberry by Dutch horticulturists.

Growth of our modern strawberries is highly dependent on temperature and day length. In spring, when the weather is cool and days are short, plants ripen. Rising temperatures and longer days trigger the plants to produce runners, on which new plants will grow.

There are two types of strawberries: June-bearing and everbearing. The name June-bearing can be deceiving, because in our area, plants typically bear in May, not June. Everbearing varieties are ones that produce a crop in both the spring and fall. In general, June-bearing types tend to perform better in our area than everbearing varieties.

Strawberry plants can be set out in the spring during March and April. The most common way of growing strawberries is in matted rows, where the runners are allowed produce mats of plants. In this system, rows are spaced 3 to 4 feet apart and plants are placed 1 to 2 feet apart within rows.

Strawberries prefer well-drained soils that contain lots of organic matter. Clay soils are harder to manage, but if amended with compost or manure, they can grow a good crop. When possible, plant strawberries in soil which has not grown strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers in the past couple of years.

A soil pH between 5.5 and 6 is ideal for strawberries. Soil should be tested several months prior to planting, so that the necessary amount of lime can be worked in. Soil tests are available at your local Extension office.