26 January 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
Photo Credit: Ken Hammond
Strawberries are the most widely cultivated small fruit in America. They are the favorite of many for pies, jams, jellies, preserves, and for eating fresh. Because strawberries are adaptable to a greater range of soil and climatic conditions than any other fruit, they are well suited to the home garden, (where supplemental watering is readily accessible).
Strawberry varieties vary greatly in their adaptability to soil and climatic conditions. The varieties suggested for planting in Virginia have been selected on the basis of plant vigor, productivity, and quality of the fruit. Virus-free plants of the varieties are available and should be purchased.
An interesting development of strawberry breeding is the production of varieties that are day-length neutral. This means that they do not respond to day length the way that conventional varieties do and can continue to produce over a longer period of time during the season. Although these varieties are sometimes listed with low producing everbearing varieties in catalogues, they are heavier producers and can be used satisfactorily in the home garden.
Establishing the Planting
Site and Soil. Strawberries bloom very early in the spring, and the blossoms are easily killed by frost. In areas where late frosts are a hazard, try to select a site for your planting that is slightly higher than surrounding areas. Although strawberries grow best in a fertile, sandy loam soil with a pH of 5.7 to 6.5, they may be successfully grown in any good garden soil that is well drained and well supplied with organic matter. Soil for strawberries should be thoroughly prepared for planting. It should be loose and free of lumps. Avoid planting early varieties on south-facing slopes and be sure to select a site where tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants have not been grown. These crops often carry verticillium wilt which lives in the soil for many years, and strawberries are very susceptible to this disease.
Do not set strawberries in soil that has recently been in sod. A clean-cultivated crop planted on the site for a year or two will leave the soil better prepared for strawberries and will assist in controlling weeds and white grubs which are troublesome in strawberry plantings. Where grubs and ants are a problem, chemical control may be necessary.
Planting. Virus-free, 1-year-old dormant plants should be set out early in the spring (early April), about three or four weeks before the average date of the last frost. Spacing of the plants will depend on the training system used, but they should not be crowded. They should be placed no less than 12 inches apart in rows 3 to 3' feet apart. Set each plant so the base of the bud is at the soil level. Spread the roots out, and firm the soil carefully around them to prevent air pockets which allow them to dry out.
Maintaining the Planting
Soil Management. Cultivation for weed control in strawberries should begin soon after planting and continue at approximately two-week intervals throughout the first growing season. Cultivation must be shallow to prevent root injury. Hoe as often as necessary to remove grass and weeds growing between the plants.
In colder areas, home garden strawberry plantings should be winter mulched. Any organic material free of weed seeds makes acceptable mulch. Hay, straw, and pine needles are most frequently used. Mulch should be applied 2 to 4 inches deep over and around the plants after the first freezing weather in the fall. This protects them from injury due to freezing and heaving of the soil during the winter. After the danger of frost is over in the spring, about half the mulch should be raked off the plants into the area between the rows. Mulch left around the plants will help keep the berries clean, conserve moisture, and check weed growth.
Fertilization. Where a soil analysis indicates the need, about 1 pound of a complete fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 or 10-6-4, per 100 feet of row should be cultivated into the soil before planting. The fertilizer used in the fall application should be the same analysis at the same rate and should be broadcast over the row in late August or early September.
The limited root systems will not benefit from fertilizer placed in the row middles. Brush the material off the plants to avoid foliage injury.
Do not apply spring fertilizer to strawberries growing in heavy soil because there is danger of excess vegetative growth resulting in reduced yield, increased rot, later ripening, and poor-quality fruit. In light, sandy soils where nitrogen leaches out rapidly, a spring application is usually beneficial. Apply a quickly soluble nitrogen fertilizer, such as nitrate of soda, at the rate of 1/2 to 3/4 pound per 100 feet of row before new growth begins.
Training. There are three popular training systems used in strawberry production. Many modifications of these systems are found. Under the matted-row system, used by most home gardeners, runner plants are allowed to set freely in all directions. The original plants should be set 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. Keeping the width of the plant bed narrow (16 to 18 inches) results in a good grade of fruit that is easy to pick.
Plants in the spaced-row system are set 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. The runner plants are set in place by hand until the desired stand is obtained. They are usually spaced 6 to 12 inches apart. All late-formed runners are removed as they appear.
In the hill system, plants are spaced 12 inches apart in the row. All runners are removed as soon as they appear, and the plants are encouraged to multiply in large crowns. This system is desired by many because the planting is easier to cultivate and harvest and produces larger, better berries than other systems. Many plants are required, however, and the initial cost of the planting is high. Black plastic mulch is particularly effective with this training system, but requires drip irrigation lines for optimum performance. This "plasticulture" system is currently popular with commercial growers.
For more information about landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.
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