Henry Homeyer: Strawberries – plant now, indulge later

By Henry Homeyer
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Traditionally, June is the month for eating strawberries. I dream of big, fat, juicy local berries that melt in my mouth and swim in juice when cut and made into strawberry shortcake. But you can, in fact, grow varieties of strawberries that produce berries all summer, or that produce berries in June and again in the fall. In any case, now is the time to buy your strawberry plants before they are all sold out.

Strawberries mulched for Winter.

First, some basics: there are three basic types of strawberries: June-bearing strawberries, so-called ever-bearing strawberries, and day-neutral strawberries. Plant June-bearing berries this summer, and you will need to wait until next summer for your first berries (pick off any blossoms this year so they develop good roots). Ever-bearing berries are not really ever-bearing: they will deliver a load of fruit this fall, and again in future years in June and the fall. Day-neutral berries are not affected by day length, and are truly ever bearing. The first year, however, you will not get any June berries from them.

Strawberries are sold in clumps of bareroot plants, usually 25 per bundle. They should be planted when the soil is at least 50 degrees, and when risk of hard frost has passed. A hard frost is one that is colder than 28 degrees, and lasts for 12 hours or more.

You can buy plants starting in early May at your local garden center or feed-and-grain store. You can also go on-line and order from seed companies, but many varieties were already sold out at Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds when I checked in late April. Nourse Farms in Massachusetts prefers that you order in the fall, but still had several varieties available when I checked.

Strawberries in Spring, mulched with straw.

All strawberries like rich, well-drained soil. If you have a heavy clay you will need to make raised beds and add lots of compost. Work the compost in with a fork or shovel to make the soil fluffier. Even average soil needs compost for best results, as does sandy soil. Sandy soil will hold moisture much better if you stir in plenty of compost.

You do not need to create wood-sided beds. Just mound up the soil to create a bed about three and a half feet wide that is four to six inches taller than your walkways. For 25 plants, a wide bed twenty feet long should do. For day-neutral berries, you can plant a two rows of plants 12 to 18 inches apart in a bed. June berries need more space, so plant just one row per bed, and space 18 to 24 inches. But always read the directions that come with the berries and space accordingly. Don’t crowd your plants or they will produce smaller berries.

I recommend the day-neutral berries. They do not require as much work as June bearing plants, which send out runners that need to be rooted in or pinched off. The day neutral plants stay in nice tidy clumps. And they produce berries all summer long, starting in the second year. Their berries are smaller than June berries, however.

Assuming you have just average soil, you should work in some minerals and fertilizer in addition to compost before planting the berries. Five pounds of an organic, slow-release fertilizer in a 20-foot wide row should be adequate. A good organic bagged fertilizer will add the three most necessary minerals – nitrogen for green growth, phosphate for strong roots and good flowering, and potassium for strong cell walls and resistance to drought and cold.

Organic fertilizers also add other nutrients that do not come in a bag of chemical fertilizer, things like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, manganese, chlorine and iron. Organic fertilizers are made from things like seaweed, chicken manure, peanuts hulls and cotton seed meal. These break down over time and supply nutrients to your plants.

The first picking!

There are a number of ways of planting your strawberries, but the main thing to focus on is getting good contact with the soil. To plant your berries, I smooth the soil surface, then dig shallow holes with small mounds of soil in the center of each. I spread out the roots over the mound, and then cover the roots with soil and pat it down. It’s important not cover the crown, (the growing point where the leaves begin).

An alternative way is to just cut a slice in the soil with a putty knife and push the roots into that slice with the putty knife. The crown needs to be at the soil surface, and the soil well patted down. Nourse Farms has a video on how to use that method.

After planting, water well, then water two or three times a week until they are well established. All berries are high in water content, so don’t let the plants dry out if we have a drought again this summer.

Strawberries hate weeds, so always plant into a weed-free bed. Grasses will compete with your berries, reducing the size and number of your berries. One way to minimize the labor of weeding is to mulch well. I put down 4 to 6 sheets of newspaper over the soil between beds and cover it with straw, mulch hay or dry leaves.

Strawberries are a relatively easy crop to grow, and will reward you nicely. Most varieties will come back for a few years, but eventually they lose vigor. Still … strawberry shortcake anyone?

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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  1. henry homeyer says:

    Hi Liisa, Plant enough for everybody, or trap them in Hav-a-Harts and deport them to Outer Slobovia.


  2. Liisa Kissel says:

    Thanks Henry. But what to do about the little critters that love strawberries as much as we do and always seem to get to them first?