A strawberry is a vegetable in the strictest scientific sense because the red berries form from a modified receptacle on the strawberry plant's flower instead of from the ovary of the flower. The seeds dotting the berries’ exterior are actually the fruit of the flower -- the ripened ovaries. Strawberries are technically false fruits, and many factors contribute to the size, structure and flavor of these false fruits.
The species or cultivar grown determines the size of the berry the plant produces. Three types of strawberries exist. Junebearers produce fruit in June from the flower buds that bloomed the previous fall. Dayneutral strawberry plants continuously bloom and set fruit throughout the summer and fall. Everbearing strawberries produce fruit in the summer and again in the fall. Within each of these categories are cultivars with different fruit characteristics, including the berry size. Veestar, Cornwallis, Sparkle, Tribute and Tristar are cultivars with smaller-than-average berries.
The strawberry plant’s age can reduce the size of the berries the plant produces. During the first year of growth, pinch and remove the blooms of Junebearing strawberry plants to prevent berry production. This allows the plant to divert the energy from fruit production to root production in the first year, which makes the plant more stable and results in larger berries the following year. After 3 to 4 years, the berries produced on most strawberry plants will decrease in both size and number, requiring rejuvenation or rotation of the crop.
When a lack of nutrients including water, sunlight or fertilizer stresses a plant during blooming or fruit development, the berries’ size is negatively affected. A plant requires sufficient energy to bloom and grow fruit. When the plant does not receive the nutrients, the available energy the plant has is diverted to the processes necessary for survival. Flower blooms and fruit production are reproductive process, not a survival process. A late frost in the spring can damage flowers, interrupting or halting fruit development.
Strawberries are susceptible to a variety of fungal, viral and bacterial diseases, as well as pest infestations. Diseases include verticillium wilt, red stele, mildew, leaf spot and botrytis fruit rot. Insects attracted to strawberry plants include root weevils, aphids, spittlebugs, slugs, birds and spider mites. Depending on the type of infection of infestation, a variety of treatments are available including fungicides, insecticides, bactericides and traps. Most viral infections have no effective treatments and require destruction of the plant.
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