Growing strawberries in your garden then adding them to ice-cream in a dish, just thinking about that terrific combination gets the taste buds racing, how often has the thought going through your mind, could eat these all day, every day! Ok, let’s stop daydreaming; growing strawberries is easy, and I’ll show you how to reap the benefits of this delicious healthy fruit.
Let’s step into the garden, and choose a site that is protected from the wind, and will be bathed in sunshine for at least six hours. Now to be successful in any form of gardening you need to pay attention to the type of soil you have and growing strawberries is no exception to the rule.
First, test the soil for its pH value; it is easy to test your soil with a pH meter or a soil test kit to find out what the composition is and then you can take some steps to rectify any problems.
A slightly acidic pH range of 5.5-6.5 is perfect for growing strawberries. Now clear the bed you have chosen of all debris, weeds, etc. and dig in 2-3 inches of well-rotted compost. Growing strawberries in a bed of high organic matter are the perfect scenario for a healthy harvest as they just love rich soil.
The next step is to make sure the site will drain efficiently because if you’re growing strawberries in a bed that has poor drainage they will rot. In this instance you could consider a raised garden bed, utilizing containers or pots or try a Growin’ Bag.
They do need consistent moisture, one or two inches a week is good, and be sure not to let them dry out. If your area is susceptible to dry periods or drought, consider irrigation or use a hose to overcome this dilemma. Mulching is highly recommended to help retain moisture as the roots are only shallow.
Now you need to decide on what type to buy for your area, new improved varieties seem to be introduced annually, so visit your local garden center for their recommendation, or browse through the extensive range of catalogs. For a family of four, 25 plants should be sufficient but if you want to make jam, you may need a few more.
Three categories of plants are available:
- June bearing: they bear fruit in the second year and produce a large single crop, suitable for jams or freezing. These thrive in a dedicated bed and you can expect new plants from their runners. For large, delicious berries try Jewel
- Everbearing: they produce three periods of fruit from late spring until early fall beginning in the first year. The plants stay fairly small and don’t produce vigorous runners. The superb flavor of Tristar makes them indispensable for out of season berries and terrific for far northern gardens.
- Day Neutral: they produce decent sized fruit in their first year from spring through till fall but they will not cope with hot summers and don’t produce many runners. Quinalt produces giant delicious berries and performs well in both pots and the garden.
Make sure the crown is at the soil level when planting. Spring is a good time to do this, if you don’t want to wait till the last frost has gone, use cloches for that head start. With everbearing or day-neutral, remove the first buds so the plant can establish itself better. Growing strawberries near tomatoes, potatoes or peppers can expose them to the infection of verticillium wilt which can seriously harm your plants. Choose varieties that are certified resistant to put your mind at rest.
Feed with blood and bone meal mid-season to keep your plants strong and healthy; as they only have shallow roots, you should remove any competing weeds as soon as possible in order to retain all the available nutrients and moisture for the growing strawberries.
The plants should be protected with mulch before the temperature drops below 20 degrees F. A layer of straw or pine needles about 3 – 4 inches deep will protect them from cold temperatures that can kill the crowns. The mulch can be removed in the spring once the chance of frost has gone.
A great book for growing fruit in your backyard is: The Backyard Berry Book: A Hands-On Guide to Growing Berries, Brambles, and Vine Fruit in the Home Garden
In general, when growing strawberries, you will find that damage from pests is minimal. Snails and slugs can easily be deterred and birds, (the feathered kind), which love to eat them can be controlled by using an anti-bird net which can be draped across the fruit and will also keep away other destructive small animals.