The Q&A Archives: thinning strawberry plants

Question: How and when is the proper time to thin strawberry plants? Our plants are so crowded and we know nothing about thinning them. Also, we were told after we do thin them then we use our lawnmower at it's highest height and mow them, is this correct? We need all the help we can get since we are really novice gardeners. We have six large

Answer: Strawberry beds can usually be carried over for three to five years or more, if the plants are vigorous, the bed is kept weed free, and the planting is properly renewed or renovated every year. The bed should be renovated shortly after the harvest is complete.

The best planting system for most gardens is the matted row. For this system, strawberries should be planted 18 inches apart within rows, with 48 to 52 inches between rows. Soon after planting, the crowns will produce a few leaves, and flower buds will emerge. During the planting year, all flowers should be pinched off. This encourages runner growth and plant vigor to fill out the bed, leading to better yields next year. Runner plants will begin to emerge from the crowns in the early summer. These should be used to fill out the rows.

The width of each row should be limited to 24 inches to maintain easy access in the planting. The runners can be positioned into the desired row width before they root and held in place with small stones, clumps of soil or old-fashioned hairpins. Runner plants that grow outside the 24-inch row width should be pinned back into the row to root or be removed if the plants become too crowded (less than six inches between plants).

Be sure to control all weeds that emerge during the season. Weeds will take over a strawberry bed and seriously reduce yield. Frequent, regular cultivation by hoeing or hand pulling weeds will greatly increase the life of a strawberry planting. Irrigate plants regularly to insure optimum growth. One to two inches of water per week is ideal.

To renovate your strawberry bed, first mow all the leaves off the strawberries, about one and one half inches above the crowns. Fertilize the plants by broadcasting 20 pounds of 10-10-10 (or organic equivalents) per 1,000 square feet.

Next, narrow the plant rows to a strip 10 or 12 inches wide with a rototiller or spade, and spread a light, one-half to one-inch layer of soil over the remaining plants, but do not bury the crowns. If necessary, thin the remaining plants, leaving only the most vigorous and healthy. Irrigate the planting well, wetting the soil to a depth of six inches. During the summer, runner plants will emerge and should be placed to fill out the row to the desired two foot width, similar to the planting year.

Keep the planting healthy and vigorous throughout the season by controlling weeds, maintaining the proper plant density and row width, and watering regularly.

Enjoy your feast of berries!

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