Sweet, succulent, vine-ripened strawberries fresh from the garden are a treat for the entire family. Although you may not think you have a “green thumb”, with a bit of planning and preparation, strawberries are a crop that is easily grown at home.
Choosing A Location For The Strawberry Patch
Strawberries grow best in well-drained sandy loam soil that is rich in organic compost and slightly acidic. PH should be approximately 5.5 to 6.8 for optimum fruit production.
Select a location where your strawberry plants will receive full sun. Strawberries will not produce well in semi-shade or shaded areas. Avoid choosing a low-lying area of the garden that may be subject to standing water or susceptible to a late frost.
Avoid locating your strawberry bed in an area of the garden where potatoes, peppers, eggplants or tomatoes have been previous cultivated. These plants are affected by many of the same soil-borne plant diseases that can infect strawberries. It is wise to reduce the risk of soil-borne disease by choosing a growing area free of possible contamination.
Preparing The Strawberry Bed
If the location you choose for your strawberry bed is not blessed with sandy loam soil that drains readily, you may want to consider building a raised bed. A raised bed can be constructed with a frame, or you can simply mound the soil in rows approximately 18 to 24-inches apart. No matter what type of strawberry bed you design, strawberry roots like lots of “wiggle room” so the bed should be at least 8 to 10-inches deep.
Strawberries flourish in soil that is high in organic material. Add well-aged herbivore manure (sheep, cow, horse, mule, lama, goat) and work the manure well into the soil. Experienced gardeners suggest preparing the bed a year before planting and then covering the bed with a cover crop of clover, buckwheat or rye. The manures and cover crop are then cultivated into the soil the following spring. The cover crop will control weeds in the planting bed as well as adding additional organic material.
Selecting Your Strawberry Plants
A visit to the plant nursery can be a bit confusing as you will find that there are three distinctly different types of strawberry plants: day-neutral, June-bearing and ever-bearing. They all taste delicious, so try several varieties in your garden until you find the one that consistently performs best in your location and soil conditions.
For the home garden, ever-bearing strawberry plants are the best choice. Although June-bearing varieties tend to produce the biggest berries, they are most susceptible to disease and insect pests. Day-neutral varieties produce an abundance of small, yet very sweet berries. Ever-bearing strawberries produce two crops annually, are disease resistant and produced good-sized berries. Ever-bearing strawberries typically produce a good crop for three to four years, and then the plants should be replaced.
Gardeners wishing to cultivate strawberries in the home garden need a bit of patience. Strawberries do not produce in abundance until the second year. However, your patience will be rewarded with vigorous growth and luscious, sweet strawberries you grew yourself.