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Growing Strawberries the Garden Delicacy

Easy Strawberry Growing

Strawberry PlantThe word strawberry instantly makes me think of bright, shiny red colour and tart, sweet flavours that pop in my mouth. Considering their cost in various markets, strawberries really aren't hard to grow. And lovely ripe ones bursting with true flavour are worth the bit of fussing they demand.

Preparing the Strawberry Bed

Before I even buy new strawberry plants, I prepare their soil bed by turning it over a spade's depth and adding lots of humus materials like leafmold, peat moss, shredded leaves, compost and such. They'll live here for years and need a good start to produce well. Strawberries are also shallow-rooted, which means they'll dry out quickly, so moisture-retaining materials are necessary. Nor do they produce well if they must fight through hard-packed soil.

Buying Strawberry Plants

When the soil is ready, I buy the plants, usually bare-rooted, in clumps of 25. These are mostly grown in sandy soil and have strong root systems. Some stores sell them potted in clumps, so soak first, then separate carefully. Before separating, note the ‘growing line', where the soil line starts/stops. Whenever I move house, I ask my local garden centre which spring-bearing variety grows well in that area. Strawberries are area sensitive due to heat days and soil type. Everbearing strawberries are available but I choose not to pick all summer.

Planting Strawberries

I've grown strawberries in both rows of mounded humps and flat beds, and find little difference in output. Humps are better if there's lots of rain or poor drainage; plant roots won't suffer root rot. Otherwise, it's aesthetic choice.

I plant my berries singly in rows to find them easily, to simplify care and have closer picking access. And when runners appear, it avoids crowding. Regardless of what sellers/breeders tell you, the nature of strawberries is to propagate by runners (young plants).

To set in a plant, I hand dig a reasonable hole with a centre mound. I add 1/4 cup of blood & bonemeal and a handful of composted manure. On top of this, a good pinch of mycorrhiza fungus (mentioned in another article) to encourage feeder roots. Then I spread out the plant roots over the hump and fill in. But this is where the trick is. Strawberries must have soil only up to their existing soil line to survive. If you plant the ‘crown' a bit too deeply, the whole plant will quickly rot. If you plant it a bit higher, roots are exposed and dry out completely. So I must adjust the plant a bit so it's both at the correct level and not in a general dip. The next plant goes in about 10 inches away.

Important to Water Your Strawberries

Water is crucial to strawberries. Water immediately after planting, then every few days until the roots take and new top growth appears. Then I cut back to weekly unless there's adequate rain. After that, during all growing seasons, I water every 2 weeks during dry spells. That's because the strawberry is unique: this year's moisture availability determines next year's berry size. And to help retain moisture and minimize weeds, I mulch both the plants and row spaces with old straw (never hay) or shredded leaves/bark.

Keep the Strawberry Bed Weed Free

Strawberries can't compete with grasses so keep them weeded. But personally, I find that a few dandelions and other weeds actually benefit my berries. Weeds are deeper rooted and provide a bit of shade. Perhaps they pull up nutrients the strawberries can share, so I'm not quick to pull them out, just to cut off flowering seedheads. 

Feeding Strawberries

After fruiting finishes, from the second year onward, is the time to feed the plants with compost or old manure, and more bonemeal mix. Feeding during fruiting only encourages leaf growth. A final feeding in late summer also helps. When I need berries for jam, I pick them several days before or after a rain or watering to avoid runny berries.

Propagating Strawberries

Runners are the long side stems that eventually develop replacement plants. Mom strawberry has used up the nutrients in her spot so she births young ones out in fresh ground. But don't cut the stem too soon. Let the young plants develop good, long roots before moving them or you're wasting your time. If possible, also dig up the root soil ball for greater success. Mom can be rejuvenated after fruiting by cutting away all coloured leaves and feeding well.

Growing Strawberries in Pots

Strawberries will also grow in large pots. Use a nutrient rich soil mix and water regularly. Unfortunately, Mom plant and soil must be discarded in fall, but runners can be potted singly then used in the large pot. Can't you just taste them now

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