If you've never tried a homegrown strawberry, you're in for a treat. Like corn and tomatoes, fresh-picked strawberries have a taste that can't be duplicated by large, commercial growers. Strawberries are perennial plants, rewarding you with fruit year after year. Growing conditions vary widely throughout Pennyslvania, so consult a local extension office or nursery expert to select strawberry varieties that thrive in your area. June-bearing strawberries, according to the University of Pennsylvania's College of Agricultural Sciences, are the simplest to grow and do well in most parts of Pennsylvania.
Lay 2 to 3 inches of compost on the soil and till with a shovel to a depth of 6 inches. Plant strawberries in a sandy or loamy soil with good drainage. Adding amendments to the soil may not be necessary for gardeners in the Conestoga Valley and Piedmont Upland areas, while gardeners in Northwest Pennsylvania, where heavy, clay soils predominate, may need more.
Plant healthy nursery stock when the ground is workable, usually mid-March for warm areas near Philadelphia or late April for other parts of Pennsylvania. Place the strawberry roots in water 30 minutes before planting, if you're planting bare-root varieties. Dig holes with a shovel approximately 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide, depending on the size of the plant. Slide the plant gently into the hole, spreading the roots out slightly. Backfill the hole with soil and gently pat it down. Position the strawberries in the soil at the place where the roots meet the crown of the plant. Space strawberry plants 18 to 24 inches apart and space rows 36 inches apart. Water the plants immediately after planting until evenly moist, but not soggy, using a sprinkler, soaker hose or slow running hose.
Apply 2 lbs. of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer per 100 feet of row after planting. Broadcast by hand, according to package directions, and irrigate for 30 minutes to activate the fertilizer. Apply an additional 2 lbs. of fertilizer per 100 feet of row in late August.
Pinch off all buds the first year to promote healthy plant growth and the reward will be more productive plants the next year.
Water strawberry plants during extended dry periods, although Pennsylvania summers usually are moist enough that additional irrigation won't be needed. Water the plants until evenly moist if the soil feels dry 3 or 4 inches under the surface.
Remove weeds after the harvest in June. Thin the strawberry patch to one plant every 3 to 4 inches in August, before giving it fertilizer. Remove "mother" plants that or 3 or 4 years old, and keep young "daughter" plants. Clip off or mow all the leaves to keep the plant from becoming an overgrown, unproductive mess.
Apply a 4-inch layer of weed-free wheat or oat straw in December to protect plants from heaving out of the ground by rapid freezes and thaws. Apply mulch in October or November in high-altitude areas such as the Allegheny High Plateaus and the Blue Ridge. Remove the mulch in mid-March when new growth appears.