How to Grow Strawberries

Varieties | Planting | Growing | Pests

Strawberries are easily grown in the home garden and are the most popular of the small fruits to grow at home. Before planting, the grower simply needs to decide on the type and variety of strawberries to grow. There are three types of strawberries: Junebearers, everbearers, and day-neutral.

Strawberry Varieties

Strawberry Plant

Junebearers are a type of strawberry that flowers and fruits once each year. Contrary to the name, they do not always fruit in June, there are varieties within this type that fruit from early spring to late fall. Junebearers produce the largest strawberries of the three types and also produce the more fruit and more runners than the other types.

Everbearing strawberries produce flowers and fruit two or three times per growing season, once each spring and fall, with some varieties producing a crop in the summer, as well. The fruit of the everbearing types of strawberry tends to be smaller than that of Junebearers, and the plants to not produce many runners.

Day-neutral strawberries are a newer type of strawberry bred to produce fruit throughout the growing season. These varieties do well in cooler climates and will produce fruit from June through September. In warmer climates they will produce earlier in the spring and later in the fall but will probably not produce well in the heat of summer.

Planting Strawberries

Strawberries will grow in almost any type of soil, but they prefer a well-drained sandy loam to loam type soil. In areas where heavy clay soils are predominant they should be grown in raised beds with 6 to 8 inches of sandy loam soil added.

Gardeners should not plant strawberries in any area where tomatoes, potatoes or peppers have been growing in the previous three to five years. These plants tend to introduce verticillium wilt into the soil, which is devastating to strawberry plants. In general strawberries should be planted early in the spring in an area with southern exposure, receiving at least 6 hours of sun per day. The ground should be fertilized with a 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.

Growing and Maintaining Strawberry Plants

The plants should be fertilized again in the second year after renovation and then again each year after renovation. The plants should be set in the ground with the roots just barely covered. Strawberry plants need at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week, and they should not be allowed to be stressed by lack of water during the fall. Healthy plants promote more buds in the spring.

Strawberries are generally grown in either matted rows, spaced rows, or hills. The way plants are grown is usually based on the type. Matted rows and spaced rows are normally used when growing Junebearing strawberries. In matted rows the strawberry plants are set 18 to 30 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. The runners are allowed to run freely into the space between rows to form daughter plants. In spaced rows the plants are also set 18 to 30 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart, but the runners are only allowed to form daughter plants four inches apart while the remaining runners are cut away. While more labor intensive, the spaced row method generally produces larger berries.

Everbearing and day-neutral strawberry types are usually planted in hills because of their tendency to produce fewer runners. In a hill system 3 to 4 plants are planted in a group in rows about a foot apart. Any runners are removed from the mother plant to encourage the growth of multiple crowns.

Each fall after the last fruiting period the plants should be renovated by mowing the tops off just above the crown of the plant. The plants should be thinned to 5 or 6 per square foot and cultivated around the root of the plant. The plants should then be fertilized and watered frequently to encourage runners and bud formation. Once the plants have gone dormant they should be mulched with straw over the winter until the last heavy frost in the spring.

Protect Strawberries from Insects and Diseases

Strawberries are susceptible to several garden pests and diseases that effect the roots, foliage, fruits, and flowers. Root pests include the strawberry crown borer, the strawberry root weevil, and white grubs which can be controlled by the use of proper plant selection, isolation of affected plants, and insecticides. Common leaf feeding pests include leafrollers, mites, and strawberry rootworms all of which can be controlled by insecticides and miticides. The fruits and flowers are threatened by thrips, slugs, and beetles which can also be controlled by baits and insecticides.

The most common diseases are verticillium wilt and gray mold. Verticillium wilt can be avoided by not planting strawberries in areas where the fungus is known to be in the soil or where plants in the nightshade family were previously grown. Several newer varieties are available that are resistant to verticillium. Gray mold causes rot in young unripe berries and can devastate a whole crop. The fungus that causes the mold can over-winter in the ground for years, but can be controlled with fungicides.

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University of Illinois Extension: Strawberries and More: Growing Strawberries
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Growing Strawberries
Purdue University Cooperative Extension: Growing Strawberries

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