In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Who could resist these sun-warmed berries?
It may seem a long way to summer, but it's not too soon to start thinking about growing that essence of summer, the strawberry. Strawberries are comfortably at home in even the tiniest garden, and can even double as attractive landscape plants. Once you've discovered how easy strawberries are to cultivate, it's only a matter of choosing superior performing, disease-resistant varieties and you will be well on your way to a tantalizing harvest.
Choose When You Want the Harvest
Strawberries are classified according to their time of harvest. If you want to have berries all season, plant more than one of the following types:
- June-bearing strawberries develop their flower buds in response to short fall days, and produce all of their berries over a two-week period the following summer. They usually produce the largest berries and are available in early, mid- and late-season varieties. Planting some of each kind will keep the berries coming for four to six weeks.
- Everbearing strawberries produce two smaller crops, one in June and a second in the fall.
- Day-neutral strawberries have no response to day length, and although they bear fewer berries in total than June-bearers, they produce fruit all season long, providing berries for shortcake and ice cream all summer.
Whichever type of strawberry you choose, plan on a minimum of 25 plants to supply fresh fruit for a family of four. For making jam or freezing, plan on more.
Getting the Patch Ready
Strawberries grow best when they have plenty of sun and well-drained soil with ample organic matter to retain moisture. Planting them on a slight slope allows cold air to run downhill, affording some protection to the tender flowers from late spring frost damage.
Prepare your strawberry patch by digging several inches of composted manure into the bed. Before planting you must decide on a growing system so that your strawberries produce at their capacity and you can care for them easily. Surprisingly, if you don't have some order in the strawberry patch, yields will decrease dramatically.
Strawberries are most often sold as dormant bareroot plants, although you may find container plants at local garden stores as well. To plant bareroot plants, in spring when the last frost is close, soak the plants' roots in water for about an hour while you get your holes ready. Take the bucket of water and plants with you to the garden; it is critical to keep the roots moist.
In your prepared bed, dig holes large enough to accommodate the roots without cramping or bending them. Trim any broken roots, and remove dried or slimy leaves. Place the plant in the hole on a small mound of soil, spread the roots, and gently fill soil in around the plant.
The most crucial step to planting strawberries is to put the crown at the right level. Once you've planted a few, it will come naturally. Set the plants in the ground so that, when you've finished, soil covers only the base of the crown, with all buds above the soil and no roots showing. Water the plants in thoroughly to remove any air pockets. Then comes the hard part: For the first year you must pinch out the flowers of June-bearing types to strengthen the plants for subsequent seasons. If you are growing everbearing or day neutral varieties, pinch off the blossoms until about July 1 the first season, then let the plants set fruit.
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