Strawberries are the perfect fruit for the home garden. They are easy to care for, need little space and yield large amounts of fruit. Strawberries are not only delicious fresh from the garden, but they also store well in the freezer. Growing about 25 strawberry plants in a home garden provides a family with plenty of vitamin C-rich, low-calorie strawberries for the entire year.
Strawberries are available in assorted varieties that produce medium, large and very large fruit. Choose a variety that suits your purpose, whether you want strawberries that are best for preserving, sweet enough for desserts, mature quickly or are resistant to insects and diseases.
Dessert-quality strawberries include Earliglow, Kent, Lester, Redchief, Surecrop, Guardian, Midway and Lateglow. The best strawberries for freezing include Earliglow, Redchief, Surecrop, Midway, Delite, Tristar and Tribute. Plants that yield the largest strawberries are Guardian, Lester, Redchief, Surecrop, Delite and Lateglow.
Begin planting strawberries as soon as the soil can be worked, usually in March or April, depending on the region. Planting in the early spring allows the strawberry plants to set their roots before the weather turns too hot. Before planting, fertilize the soil and turn in the fertilizer to about 8 inches deep. Place the strawberry plants in dry, well-drained soil on an overcast day in early evening.
Cover the tops of the strawberry roots with loam, making sure not to cover the crown where the green stems grow. New runners form about five weeks after planting. These runners become new strawberry plants.
Once the strawberry plants are established, they need direct sunlight for about six hours every day. Strawberries require a minimum of 1 inch of water each week.
Matted Row Planting System
The Matted Row system is best for strawberries that mature in June. When using the Matted Row system, plant the strawberries from 18 to 30 inches apart. Set the rows about four feet apart. This system allows the runners and new plants to form a matted row.
For the Spaced Row system, set the strawberry plants 18 to 30 inches apart, using rows that are approximately 4 feet apart. The new plants, or daughter plants, are set up to 4 inches apart. Any extra runners are cut from the original strawberry plant. The Spaced Row system produces more fruit and larger strawberries than the other systems but takes more care.
The Hill System is the most popular planting system for strawberries. Remove all the runners growing from the original plant. Removing the runners causes the mother plant to produce more flowering stalks that become strawberries. Plant the rows of strawberries in groups from two to four plants. Allow a 2-foot-wide row between groups. During the first few weeks, weed the garden bed, and then use mulch to control more weeds.
Mulch the strawberry plants in the fall to prevent the frost from killing the roots and new spring buds. Apply a mulch of straw about 4 inches deep over the plants. In the spring, remove the mulch when the strawberry leaves begin to turn yellow. Keep the soil moist by leaving some of the mulch around the base of the strawberry plant. Strawberry plants produce fruit for up to four years.