The Q&A Archives: Strawberries

Question: I am getting ready to build a strawberry bed. What type of soil should I add? I live in Southern California (Zone 9), which strawberries would be the best to plant? Thanks

Answer: Soil building is a continual process, not a one-time thing. To improve your soil, incorporate plenty of compost before every planting season. In clay soils, compost improves soil fertility and drainage. Add a 4-6 inch layer of compost and incorporate it about 12-18 inches deep. You can use manure if it is well-aged (6 months) or you won't be planting until it has lost it's heat and decomposed. Each planting season, add more compost. You may want to incorporate a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) or add organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, bone meal, and seaweed/kelp at the same time. Follow package instructions.

After planting, add a 1-2 inch layer of mulch. Mulch is great to help retain soil moisture, reduce weeds, and as it breaks down it provides nutrients to the soil. Any organic matter can be used as mulch. Try compost, bark, wood chips, straw, or pine needles. As it breaks down, dig it into your soil and add more.

The kind of strawberries you plant will depend upon what you plan to do with the fruit. Strawberries are generally considered perennial plants. Most renew themselves by producing runners that develop into new little plants. These new plants are often used to replace the older, less productive parent plants. If you renew the plants in your strawberry bed every three years by removing the older plants and replacing with the new plants that have developed at the ends of the runners, you can keep the bed healthy and productive for many years. The 'Day-Neutral' type cultivars produce berries over a long season. As long as you keep the ripe berries picked, the plants will develop flowers all season, and produce berries. 'June-bearing' cultivars usually produce only one crop of berries. This is handy if you expect to freeze, dry, or process the berries into jams or jellies. 'Everbearing' cultivars usually produce two crops of berries, one in spring and one in fall. It's important to prepare the bed well prior to planting by digging in lots of organic matter. When planting, set plants 1 1/2' to 2' feet apart in rows 4' apart. As the plants mature they will fill in, and there will still be room for the runners to root, without overcrowding. Strawberries need at least one-inch of water per week during the growing season. At the end of the season, to help prevent disease, you can mow the foliage down and remove it from the garden. Be sure to purchase only 'certified disease free' strawberry plants. Some of the most popular cultivars include 'Tri-Star', 'Quinalt', 'Hood' and 'Shuksan'.

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