One of the most dependable fruit crops for the home gardener, strawberries nearly always provide at least a small harvest. Even abandoned beds frequently yield scattered clusters. Proper care increases yield and avoids occasional disasters that seriously reduce the harvest. Healthy second-year plants, together with the runner plants set the first season, should produce about a quart of ripe berries in a season.
Fertilize new strawberry beds with 10-10-10 fertilizer before planting to provide the best growing conditions. Scatter fertilizer at a rate of one pound per hundred square feet of bed and till the soil afterward. Fertilize established beds in midsummer after the berry harvest ends.
Plant strawberries with the spaced row system for maximum yield. Matted row techniques require less tending but produce less per square foot of bed. Rather than letting runners set in random places--resulting in crowded beds--move runners to root three to four inches apart. When the bed fills in to a width of two feet, remove any new runners to focus growth in the established plants.
Prune away all flower clusters in the first year. Allowing new plants to set fruit takes energy away from runner production. Removing flower stalks puts energy into root systems and new strawberry plants. Those runner plants produce most of next year's berry crop.
Protect blooming strawberry plants from spring frosts by covering the row with a layer of straw or black plastic sheeting when forecasters predict damaging temperature drops. Remove the protective covers as soon as temperatures warm. Frost damage during the bloom severely reduces yields.
Clear the strawberry beds of heavy mulch or debris which could harbor pillbugs and other berry-eating garden pests. Spraying with insecticide usually isn't necessary. Picking berries as soon as they ripen prevents most insect damage. Harvest strawberries daily during the fruiting season or risk losing ripened fruit to other garden visitors.
Things You Will Need
- Straw mulch
- Black plastic sheeting
- Only pollinated strawberry blossoms set fruit. Bees and other flying insects visiting open blooms ensure a crop. Early blooms could be missed and might set no fruit. When insect populations soar and bees visit, berries set on the plants.
- Don't over-fertilize strawberry plants. Strawberries grow even in poor soil--too much fertilizer or late fertilizing puts the plants at risk for freezing damage by stimulating new growth late in the year. Over-fertilization also reduces yields, as the plants react to excessive fertilizer by producing leaves instead of blossoms.
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