How to Plant Strawberries in Michigan
Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) are productive little plants that, given good growing conditions, will produce prolifically year after year. Although the length and severity of Michigan winters, particularly in the northern reaches of the state, can be a challenge to some fruit crops, strawberries aren't daunted by the cold. Cultivars are available that are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 to 11, so they can handle the climate throughout Michigan.
June-bearing strawberry varieties produce one large crop of berries, usually in mid-June in Michigan, and they typically produce more berries per season than other types of plants. Among suitable varieties of June-bearing cultivars for Michigan are "Allstar" (Fragaria ananassa "Allstar") and "Jewel" (Fragaria ananassa "Jewel"), both of which are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8, and "Cavendish" (Fragaria ananassa "Cavendish") and "Annapolis" (Fragaria ananassa "Annapolis"), which are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8.
Ever-bearing varieties produce two relatively small crops, the first in the spring and the second in the early fall; the timing of the crops is triggered by the length of daylight hours. Day-neutral varieties produce berries independently of day length and may produce through most of the season. Recommended cultivars for the state include "Tribute" (Fragaria ananassa "Tribute") and "Tristar" (Fragaria ananassa "Tristar"), which are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.
Strawberries prefer well-drained soils that contain plenty of organic matter. They also need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day to produce well, so they should be planted in full sun; although the plants can tolerate partial shade, they're unlikely to bear well if they don't get enough light.
Strawberries will also produce best if they're growing in slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.3 and 6.5.
Strawberries benefit from consistent soil moisture, so the soil in the planting bed needs to drain well yet retain enough moisture to keep the plants' roots from drying out. Incorporating 1 to 4 inches of organic compost or peat moss into the soil will help by contributing moisture-retentive material to sandy soils that otherwise might drain too quickly and by loosening dense clay soils that might retain too much water.
Plant strawberries as early in the spring as possible so that they have plenty of time to get established at the beginning of the season.
Strawberries must be planted at the correct depth or they won't grow well. If they're planted so shallowly that the roots are exposed, the roots may dry out, but if they're planted so deeply that the crown where the leaves emerge is buried, the plant may rot. Place the plants so that the surface of the soil meets the midpoint of the crown. Firm the soil around the plants and water them well.
In laying out rows of plants, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart, with 3 or 4 feet between rows.
In a "matted row" planting system, plants are allowed to send out runners from which new plants grow and fill in the row; this system works well with June-bearing varieties. In a "hill" planting systems, runners are cut off and not allowed to produce new plants; this system is most often used with ever-bearing or day-neutral varieties.
Evan Gillespie grew up working in his family's hardware and home-improvement business and is an experienced gardener. He has been writing on home, garden and design topics since 1996. His work has appeared in the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Arts Everywhere magazine and many other publications.