Supermarket strawberries are often harvested green and shipped long distances, making them bitter and watery. The sweet flavor of home grown strawberries ripened on the vine is a special treat. Strawberries propagate from runners, with daughter plants springing up separately from the mother. If planted correctly and tended well, strawberry plants can yield good fruit up to three years.
Strawberries love full sun. They need to be in a place that gets some breeze to aid pollination and encourage good air circulation, but they should be protected from strong winds. The roots only go about 1 foot deep, which makes strawberries ideal candidates for containers or raised beds. Avoid planting strawberries in places where Solanaceae like tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant have grown the previous season, because the soil can harbor pests and diseases that will harm the plants.
Soil, Fertilizer and Watering
Strawberries are prone to root rot, so the soil should be light, well-draining and rich in organic material. About a month before planting, mix in some 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer, compost or aged manure. Right before planting, sprinkle some bone meal into the soil. Keep the soil moist but not wet. In the garden, strawberries benefit from drip or soaker hoses, which deliver water directly to roots and discourage weeds and fungus.
Young strawberry plants are not frost tolerant, so they should not go into the ground until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 25 degrees. In warmer regions, strawberries can be planted in fall for a spring harvest. You can protect seedlings with cloches or ground covers to keep them warm in case of a sudden frost. In fall, protect harvested plants by cutting them back to about 1 inch tall, and cover with mulch or straw which will be removed in spring when the last chance of frost has passed.
Strawberries are usually planted as seedlings or plugs, either purchased or from the previous year's crop. Three or four weeks after preparing the beds, plant the plugs or seedlings at least 18 inches apart, with at least 3 feet between rows. Water the seedlings before transplanting and set them in the soil so that the crown that divides the roots from the leaves is halfway buried. If you plant the strawberries in small hills, the plants will stay warmer in early spring, and the runners will propagate easily next to the mother plant. You can leave a few runners for harvest the next year, or wait until they have established roots before separating them from the mother and transplanting them elsewhere in spring.