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Dessert is right outside the door when you grow your own strawberries. Sweet and juicy homegrown berries are delicious in desserts, as well as the base for jams and jellies and for garnishing summer drinks and salads. Equally loved by deer, chipmunks, and a host of other rodents, strawberries need protection in areas that have high population of these critters. The effort is worth it when you harvest handfuls of sun-ripened berries.
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Types of Strawberries
Choosing the kind of strawberry to plant can seem overwhelming, but here is a simple solution. Ask yourself these questions: How are you planning to use the berries? Do you want to enjoy the sweet fruit atop your cereal or ice cream? Would you like to harvest a large quantity of berries for making jams and jellies?
If you plan to primarily enjoy berries fresh, everbearing or day-neutral types will be a good fit. Everbearing types produce small berries from spring through fall. Count on one everbearing plant to produce a handful of small berries every couple of weeks. Day-neutral plants also produce berries throughout the season. They cease production during high heat but, like everbearing plants, the one plant will produce a handful of small berries during moderate temperatures.
If you want to make jams or jellies, plant a June-bearing type that produces one large crop in June. These large berries are perfect for preserving, as well as enjoying fresh for about a month.
Strawberry Plant Care
Strawberries grow best in full sun. A partly shaded planting area will greatly reduce berry production. Well-drained soil is essential. Wet or boggy soil will limit plant growth and increase the potential for berries to rot after ripening. If your landscape is plagued by poorly drained soil, plant strawberries in a raised bed.
Plant strawberries in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Situate strawberry plants in the soil so their roots are fully covered with soil but the crown—or growing point where stems and leaves emerge—is sitting on top of the soil. Strawberries spread by runners that will emerge from the crown and create daughter plants nearby. Strawberry plants are often planted 18 to 30 inches apart in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart. Runners extend from the plants to form daughter plants, increasing the width of the row. For best plant health and harvest, maintain rows that are no more than 2 feet wide. This planting method is called the matted row system.
An alternate planting method is the hill system. Best for day-neutral and everbearing strawberries, the hill system involves removing all runners so only the original mother plant remains. Removing runners encourages the mother plant to produce more crowns and flower stalks.
During the first growing season, remove flowers of June-bearing strawberries as soon as they appear. Removing flowers promotes root and runner development, which promotes a large crop the following year. For everbearing and day-neutral strawberries, remove the flowers until the end of June and then, after that date, allow the flowers to remain and set fruit.
After Harvest Care
After harvesting June-bearing strawberries, mow or cut back the foliage about 1 inch above the crowns. Rake and remove the leaves, composting them if they are disease-free. Narrow the rows to 6 to 12 inches wide by spading, hoeing, or rototilling. Remove weeds and add compost or a balanced fertilizer. Hill-planted strawberries don't require extensive renovation beyond removing runners.
Strawberries are susceptible to extreme winter temperatures and spring frosts. Protect plants in mid-November by spreading a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch over the planting. Remove the mulch in the spring when leaves begin to turn yellow. Leave some of the mulch around plants to conserve soil moisture throughout the season.