Perhaps nothing tops the list of nature’s sweet desserts than the strawberry. Unlike other fruits that continue to ripen after being harvested strawberries don’t so they should be enjoyed immediately after being picked. This means that no strawberry purchased at the grocery store will ever taste as good as growing them in your own yard. Many gardeners are intimidated by the thought of growing fruits as they seem to be exotic but the truth is that strawberries are a great choice for getting acquainted with this type of gardening.
There are numerous varieties of strawberries but there are typically 3 broad categories which are generally determined by when the fruit is available to harvest. Early Bearing varieties are better suited for garden zones 6 through 10 and as the name suggests the fruit ripens early in the growing season. In Northern Zones this would be in June but in warmer zones the fruit will ripen as early as April. Mid-season varieties will produce fruit later than the early bearing varieties and ever-bearing varieties will provide a significant harvest in June and then a smaller sized harvest in September. If you have the room and can plant each variety of strawberry you can almost guarantee a steady harvest from June through September.
Once you’ve decided what variety of strawberry to plant the next step is to choose a spot to plant them in. You’ll want to look for ground that will allow the plants to get full sun with soil that drains well. Strawberries require rich soil so you’ll want to dig down 8 to 10 inches and mix in plenty of compost or dry manure. Due to the drainage requirements strawberries often benefit from being planted in raised beds or even on ground that has a slope. Once planted strawberries spread through what are known as runners. This is not unlike a ground cover so even on a slope they will be able to grab hold in the soil.
Once the soil is prepared you are ready to plant the strawberries. Planting them close together will usually result in a high yield of smaller sized fruit but typically they are planted 12 inches apart in rows that are spaced 18 inches from one another. Strawberries have a shallow root system so planting them in early spring is usually better than in the fall. It give the plants a whole growing season to get established before the colder weather sets in. During the winter the plants can be pushed out of the ground due to the cycle of freezing and thawing so using mulch and checking on them to push them back in the ground is recommended.
Now, we probably all have learned that gardening is often about having patience and instant gratification isn’t always in the cards. Growing strawberries illustrates this as for the first growing season you’ll want to remove the white flowers which are where the fruit comes from and any runners that the plants generate so that they can focus all of their attention on growing a strong root system. The following year you’ll be rewarded for your patience!
Ok, let’s fast forward now to year 2. You’ve successfully established your strawberry patch and it’s getting toward harvest time. You think you’re in the clear but you start to notice slugs and snails on some of the fruit. You also see that the birds seem to hang around your yard a little too much. This is the time that you’ll need to be even more diligent! Netting can help take care of the birds and some cups of beer will help take out those slugs and snails.