Strawberries are great treats when right off the plant. Berries bought in supermarkets tend to be tart with grainy texture and the reason for this is that the natural sugar in the strawberries starts converting to starch as soon as it is plucked from the plant. They are relatively easy to grow if you have full sun and it’s definitely worth your while to try planting your own strawberries.
When to plant
In order to grow strawberries, you will need sun and acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. It is recommended that you plant them as early as six weeks before your last frost. By using row covers you will protect new plantings from extreme wind and cold. Plants can also be planted in fall, which is a common practice where winters are mild.
How to plant
First, choose a fertile site free of perennial weeds which is sunny. Enrich the site with plenty of organic matter, because a strawberry patch will produce well or 3 to 4 years. Planters or raised beds are great choice for most types of strawberries. In addition, they make the strawberries easier to pick. Several varieties of strawberries can be grown from seed. However, most gardeners save 1 to 2 year’s growing time by setting out dormant bare-root plants sold in bunches or individual container-grown plants.
You should transplant individual plants to the same depth they grew in the containers. Trim off any dead roots and leaves and spread out bundled plants. Locate the central crown and transplant so the roots are spread out and the base of the crown rests at the soil line. Mulch between each strawberry plant with chopped leaves, pine needles or another mulch which supports acidic soil conditions. Space between each strawberry plant depends on strawberry type. For example, those which produce many vigorous runners should be planted eighteen inches apart.
How to grow
When it comes to ever-bearing varieties, pinching off the first flowers leads to better production of more intensely flavored fruits. Pick off flowers which form on June-bearing varieties their first season, following spring planting. When it comes to vigorous varieties, help the mother plants concentrate on the following year’s crop by pinching off about half of the runners. You will increase the production of big, juicy berries if you remove all runners from ever-bearing varieties. However, don’t do this if you need more plants.
After the fruiting season has ended, renovate beds of June-bearing strawberries in summer. Thin plants to six inches apart and pull weeks. Distribute a light application of a balanced organic fertilizer between each plant after cutting back old leaves four inches from the ground. Top the renovated bed with a fertile garden soil or a half-inch of weed-free compost. As a result, June-bearing strawberry plants grown in a 30-square-foot bed will produce close to 30 pounds of strawberries each year for 3 to 4 years.
Harvest and storage
Each season you should expect some flavor variation. Plenty of warm sun brings about sweeter, firmer fruits, while cool, wet springs lead to watery, soft berries. Use a short stub of green stem attached in order to pick strawberries. It is recommended that you harvest in the cool of the morning and refrigerate immediately. Wait until just before preserving or eating them to remove their green caps and wash them under cool running water. For optimal color and flavor, preserve berries within 3 days.