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In the Garden

Plenty of options to grow your own strawberries

Were the strawberries late in ripening this year or was I just too impatient? This is normally the time for strawberries but with the cool, rainy weather we have had this month, the strawberry harvest was set back a bit. Our little alpine plants have been fruiting for a week or two but the large berries have not had enough sun to get them fully ripe.

If you love strawberries as much as I do, why not try growing some of these luscious berries yourself? It isn’t terribly hard to do; they just need a spot in full sun that has well drained, good soil. The hardest part is deciding what kind of strawberries to grow. Depending on when they fruit, strawberries are divided into the following categories:

∎ June bearing plants produce one large harvest in early summer and send out many runners with baby plants. Mother plants last about three years and can be replaced with rooted runners.

∎ Day neutrals are a type of strawberry that is insensitive to day length, which is what triggers fruiting in other strawberries. They produce berries every six weeks from June through October and will even set fruit on unrooted runners, making them perfect for hanging baskets or strawberry jars.

∎ Ever-bearing plants produce large berries in June and again in the fall. They send out fewer runners than the June bearers. These cultivars are being replaced by the newer day neutrals.

∎ Alpines produce small berries all season, they don’t send out runners and are long-lived. Since they are so well-behaved, they can be integrated into ornamental beds as edging plants. To propagate them, you must divide an established clump or start new plants from seed.

Be sure to prepare the soil for your new strawberry bed well in advance of planting. Till deeply and add lots of aged manure and compost. Remove all the weeds you can before planting. Strawberries are difficult to weed, and since they are shallowly rooted, they don’t compete well for moisture or nutrients.

Strawberries need a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day and the soil should be slightly acidic, 5.8-6.5 pH. Avoid planting them where melons, raspberries, tomatoes or other nightshades have grown recently to lessen the chance of soil-borne diseases. Be sure to obtain disease-resistant plants from a reliable source.

You can spread the harvest out over a long period by planting early-, middle- and late-season varieties.

Plants will be shipped dormant. Keep them in the fridge until you are ready to plant.

Soak the roots in water before planting them. Make a V-shaped trench, fan the roots, and cover only the lower half of the crown (where the leaves and roots meet) with soil or the plants could rot. Space them 12-18 inches apart in the row. The runners can be trained to fill in the spaces to make a matted row. Water them frequently throughout the growing season.

Remove all flowers from June bearers this year to encourage plant and runner growth. Remove the first flower clusters from day neutrals and then let them set fruit. Alpines grown from seed this year will fruit later this summer.

Fertilize June bearers in the fall when plants are developing next year’s fruit buds (spring fertilizing encourages excessive plant growth at the expense of fruit production). The more leaves on a plant in the fall, the more berries you’ll have next spring. Fertilize day neutrals when leaves first appear in the spring and after each flush of fruit. Well-tended plants can yield anywhere from a pint to two quarts or more per plant. For more information, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension’s website has a fact sheet on growing strawberries.

If you decide to leave the work to the professionals, most areas have local farms with pick-your-own strawberry patches. Call ahead for hours and availability.

Today’s full moon is appropriately called “the strawberry moon” and the harvest is just getting started. Strawberry season is short but sweet, so eat as many as you can before it is over.

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