Wild strawberries are native to the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Asia. The strawberry was cultivated as far back as ancient Rome. Then, in France in the 1700’s, a hybrid variety was developed by breeding wild strawberries from North America with bigger wild berries found by explorers in Chili. Today there are hundreds of strawberry varieties that are big, sweet, and disease-resistant. Over the years, a number of varieties have been bred for our colder, northern climate.
GETTING STARTED: April or early May are ideal times to plant strawberry plants (bare root plants can be purchased inexpensively in the spring) so they have all summer to get established. You can plant strawberry plants in any garden area or even in a container or strawberry pot. Strawberries thrive in a raised bed where drainage is better. They prefer a loose, slightly acidic soil, such as our mixture of 25% compost, 15% sand, 15% peat moss and 35% topsoil.
Space plants as close as 8 inches or as far apart as 24 inches. Spacing plants further apart allows the runners to have room to develop and form new plants, filling in the area. Eventually your strawberry plants will be too thick if you don’t thin the runners so the plants are about 12” apart. Plant them in rows as wide as 5 feet apart in a garden area to allow an aisle between the rows.
Plant the crown of the strawberry plant at ground level. Strawberries dry out quickly the first few days after planting, so keep the ground around them constantly moist until they become rooted. Pinch the blossoms off your newly planted strawberries the first year to allow the plant’s energy to produce a stronger plant next year with more and bigger berries.
CARE: Weeds and grass can be difficult to keep out of your strawberry patch. Be sure to start with a weed-free bed and cultivate frequently. A mulch of black poly or straw between rows will help. Renovate your strawberry bed every 3 to 5 years or so. Then, you can start again weed free. Runners from your old plants can be transplanted into the new bed.
Shallow-rooted strawberry plants need plenty of moisture in our dry climate. Fertilize strawberry plants twice a year, once in the spring when they begin to grow and again after the first crop in mid-summer. Use a well-balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10, preferably one that contains trace minerals like iron, calcium, & manganese .
PESTS: To keep birds from eating your strawberries, cover your patch with netting as the berries ripen. A few insects, namely slugs and spittle bugs, attack strawberries, but we have not found them to be serious threats.
Many of us are becoming more aware of the need to eat healthy; strawberries are a great source of vitamin C, minerals, fiber, and anthocyanins (cancer-fighting antioxicants). Plant yourself a strawberry patch this spring—the results are a delicious, easy-to-grow fruit enjoyed by young and old!