Sun-sweetened strawberries, still warm from the garden, top nature's menu of fine desserts. Just a few rows of plants will fill your fruit bowl and freezer, even after you subtract the samples you sneak while picking. Better yet, smother a couple in melted chocolate if your sweet tooth is calling. By growing different varieties, you can enjoy the luscious bounty of a strawberry patch from spring until fall frost. Here are tips for how to grow strawberries in your yard!
Renovate your June-bearers each year with the lawn mower—really, it's that easy! After you've harvested, set the mower about 4 inches and mow the beds. Rake out the clipped plant parts, weed, remove baby plants that have hopped out of the bed, and lightly fertilize with an organic all-purpose blend.
Test Garden Tip: The first year of your strawberry bed, you must be brave and remove all flowers from the plants so they can establish a good root system. Keep dreaming of next year's strawberry shortcake!
A straw mulch helps. During the growing season, the straw keeps weeds down, moderates soil moisture, and keeps the berries from sitting in the mud. In winter, it's a blanket to keep the plants cold and dormant until it really is time to start growing. But be careful, because nasty slugs and snails can lurk underneath the straw, just waiting to take slimy bites out of your precious fruits. Use an organic slug control—one that's iron-phosphate based—to help protect the strawberries.
Here's how to grow strawberries with a European flair: Fragaria vesca, the little alpine strawberry known as fraises des bois, which come in white or red fruit, is a delicacy in Europe. It's amazingly easy to grow in Zones 3-9. The plants don't produce plantlets, but they do reseed and create a high groundcover that puts out small, slim, tasty fruits throughout the season. They'll even grow in part shade.
The three main types of strawberries are June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral. June-bearing strawberries, such as 'Shuksan', grow well in Zones 6-10, but some varieties are better for your local conditions than others. Choose the variety by checking with your local extension office, or go to your local farmer's market in June, buy several kinds, and perform your own taste test. Keep in mind that June-bearers will produce their crop earlier in warm climates, which means you could be eating berries in April.
In Zones 6-8 (except for hot, humid areas), you can learn how to grow strawberries that are everbearing (also called day-neutral). Everbearing types, such as 'Quinault', produce two crops—one in June and one in September—so they aren't really everbearing (who thought up that label?). Day-neutral types, such as 'Tristar', will produce from June to September, a continual but smaller crop.
June-bearing varieties are often recommended for short-season northern gardens; they offer a bigger summer bounty than everbearers, but plants stop fruiting after the first harvest.
No matter what type of strawberry you grow, select a spot in full sun for your bed that has moist, well-drained soil. Spade soil to a depth of 8-10 inches, working in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure.
The techniques for growing strawberries with great success come from starting with new plants bought from a reputable nursery, not plants passed along from a friend's garden. Strawberry plants decrease in vigor after a few years, and they are susceptible to diseases, so it's best to start fresh—not with hand-me-downs. In fact, your whole bed should be replaced every four or five years.
Choose a sunny, well-drained site, and dig in compost and an all-purpose organic fertilizer. Plant June-bearers in early spring in rows 4 feet apart, setting the plants 2 feet apart. The mother plants make plantlets that will hop around on runners and root. These will fill the rows and create a mat—let them fill up a 2-foot-wide space, keeping room between the rows for access. For everbearing and day-neutral types, clip off those runners and only maintain the original plants.
'Baron Solemacher' Chefs savor this alpine for its intense taste. Because the berries are fragile, they're best eaten fresh from the patch.
'Earliglow' One of the earliest varieties to set fruit. Good fresh or frozen, the flavorful berries are sweet without adding sugar. Winter-hardy plants resist disease.
Fragaria chiloensis While most alpines won't wander, this wild one sends runners cascading over rocks at the edge of a woodland garden.
'Giant Robinson' These huge, mouthwatering berries are impressive in a fruit bowl. The vigorous, heavy-yielding plants offer one long-lasting picking season each summer.
'Honeyoye' These firm and juicy berries are prized for their naturally sweet taste. Winter-hardy plants grow vigorously, producing one big crop of conical fruits each year.
'Pink Panda' Grow pretty 'Pink Panda' as an everblooming, edible ground cover in sun or partial shade.
'Pineapple Crush' Named for its distinct flavor, this alpine bears cream-yellow fruits the first year if seeds are sown early indoors.
'Redchief' These open plants reveal large, bright-red berries that remain firm for freezing and are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. Highly disease resistant.
'Sparkle' Recommended for northern gardens, this hardy variety withstands late spring frosts. The name describes the berries' bright sheen. Excellent fresh or frozen.
'Tribute' A day-neutral variety, producing berries recurrently from spring till fall frost. Fruits are bigger later in the season. Resistant to cold and many diseases.
'Tristar' Berry production never goes on holiday, thanks to this hardworking day-neutral variety that fruits from spring to frost.