The timing of strawberry fruit harvest depends on the variety of strawberry plants (Fragaria spp.). June-bearing strawberries, also called day-short strawberries, yield the largest fruit crop. Home gardeners may prefer ever-bearing strawberries, which yield a small spring crop and a larger early-autumn crop, or day-neutral strawberries, which yield fruits throughout summer.
Domestic strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) are hybrids of several species of wild strawberries. Although strawberries are perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 11, depending on the cultivar, they are typically grown as annuals, depending on the type.
When strawberry plants are required to spend winter in cold climates, they are usually covered with a floating row cover and a 4-inch-thick layer of hay or straw mulch to protect them from cold and wind. In spring, floating row covers protect them from blossom-killing late frosts.
June-Bearing or Short-Day Type
June-bearing strawberries are so-named because June is when their fruits ripen in most U.S. states. In cooler, northern climates, they may not yield fruits until July. They are also called short-day strawberries because they grow flower buds when the daylight period gets shorter than 14 hours in autumn; they grow flower buds when temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, too.
Their flowers open in the spring following the autumn flower bud growth. June-bearers yield a large crop of aromatic, flavorful berries, but they bear fewer berries or even no berries when hit by a late-spring frost.
June-bearers grow longer runners than ever-bearers or day-neutrals. They are ordinarily planted 15 inches apart in rows, with 3 to 4 feet of space between rows. That arrangement is called the matted-row system.
Ever-Bearing and Day-Neutral Types
Ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberries do not do well in hot climates and will stop flowering and producing fruit when temperatures get too hot. The terms "ever-bearing" and" day-neutral" are often used interchangeably, although the two varieties are not the same.
Ever-bearing strawberries are suitable choices for home gardeners to use because they are dependable fruit producers, and they will still yield their second crop in late summer or early autumn even if a late-spring frost kills their early blooms.
Day-neutral strawberries grow flower buds when temperatures drop below 70 F in spring. They yield a small amount of strawberries for four to five months from late spring through early autumn while temperatures range from 35 to 85 F. Day-neutrals can be grown as annuals.
Ever-bearers and day-neutrals are planted in a hill system, meaning they are spaced 1 foot apart in three rows that are also 1 foot apart, with 3 feet of space between each set of three rows. The term "hill system" is misleading because it does not refer to any form of raised area. It is term horticulturalists use to refer to plants growing an equal distance from one another, 1 foot apart in strawberries' case.
Strawberry fruits should be picked every other day when they begin to ripen. Red but still firm berries are harvested during cool morning hours, and the stemmed caps on the end of the strawberries are left on the fruits. If the fruits are picked when pink, they will turn red but won't get sweeter or riper. The size of the berries has nothing to do with their flavor. Soft, over-ripe berries attract diseases and insects, plus they may develop undesirable flavors.
Prevent crushed, bruised or rotting berries by putting them in containers 3 inches deep or fewer and leaving the fruits unwashed during storage.
Home gardeners typically put strawberry fruits in vented plastic bags and store them in refrigerators. The humidity of a refrigerator crisper helps keep the berries firm. Their caps are removed, and they are washed well with water before eaten.