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Strawberries

Article by: Nadia Hassani  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
Strawberries
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Strawberries are easy to grow, whether you have a garden or a small sunny balcony, because their shallow roots make them ideal container plants. The key to growing tasty strawberries is selecting disease-resistant varieties that fit your locale. When strawberries are not bearing, they are an attractive ground cover. This article tells you how to select, plant, maintain and harvest strawberries.
Strawberries at a glance
Strawberries are a winter-hardy perennial plant. They need full sun and well-drained soil mixed generously with compost.

Strawberries are available in two types. The June-bearers, the more common type, usually ripen in early to midsummer and bear fruit for about two and a half weeks. June-bearers are planted only in spring. Because all first-year blossoms must be removed to give the plants energy to get established, there is no harvest from June-bearing strawberries in the first year.

Everbearing strawberries produce from early summer to autumn. Everbearing strawberries can be planted in the autumn or spring. Generally, everbearing strawberries are smaller and not as productive as June-bearing.

There are thousands of varieties of strawberries, many developed for specific locales. Buy your plants as close to home as possible and find out from neighbours and other gardeners in you area which strawberries they are growing. As strawberries are prone to a variety of diseases, select only varieties that are certified as disease-resistant.

Strawberries are prolific growers. Especially June-bearing strawberries quickly form a thick mat of offshoots called runners. If not cut back regularly, the rapid growth of strawberries can deplete neighbouring plants of space and nutrients.

Planting strawberries
Do not plant strawberries where any tomatoes, potatoes, okra, aubergine or raspberries have grown in the past years because they may leave behind soil- borne diseases. Also do not plant where there has been grass in the past year because grass can harbour grubs (larvae that will grow into beetles) that are also harmful to strawberries.
Both June-bearing and everbearing strawberries are planted in the spring when the soil is soft enough to be easily worked. Before planting, turn over your soil to a depth of 15 to 20cm, mixing in a generous amount of compost, and 500g of a balanced fertiliser (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) per 10 square metres.
Keep the plants in a shady area or the fridge until planting. A half-hour before planting soak the roots in water. Do not let the roots dry out while planting.
Plant June-bearing strawberries 45 to 60cm apart in rows at least 1 metre apart. Plant carefully so that all of the root system is below the soil level and the soil is just meeting the short "neck" on the stem, just below where the leaves begin.
Use your shovel to create a "V" pocket to fit your strawberry plant and all of its roots. Place the plant in the "V" at the correct depth and use your trowel and hands to fill in and compress the soil.
Everbearing strawberries are planted the same way, except for the spacing. Leave at least 30cm between each plant, and 75cm between the rows. Everbearing strawberries may also be planted in autumn, and you can begin harvesting the following spring.
Immediately after planting, water the strawberries deeply. Continue watering often throughout the season. The shallow root system of the strawberries makes them susceptible to moisture loss. It is better to water less and more frequently.
Bad companions for strawberries
Strawberries stunt the growth of members of the mustard family so do not plant any broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, or other members of that crop family nearby.
Caring for strawberries
Strawberries step picture 7
1. In the first year, you must pinch off all the first-year blossoms of June-bearing strawberries. This redirects the energy into producing large amounts of fruit for the second year.
If you plant everbearing strawberries in the spring, you must pinch off all the early summer blossoms. You will then have a crop in the autumn and in subsequent springs and autumns for the next two years.
2. In dry spring and early summer weather, strawberries must be watered regularly. However, try not to over-water, and avoid swamping the soil and roots, because this will dilute the flavour of the fruit.
Use mulch such as 2 to 5cm of straw between the rows to conserve water and suppress weeds. Before winter, strawberries require winter protection. Use 10cm of straw to cover the strawberries. Do let the mulch clump, but apply it loosely and let it settle on the plants. In early spring, once the danger of the last frost has passed, remove the straw from over the plants leaving it in the rows as bedding for the fruits and to control moisture and weeds
Strawberries step picture 9
3. Each strawberry plant will send out numerous runners that will form new plants. From each plant allow no more than six new plants to develop, approximately 10 to 15cm apart. Cut off all additional runners during the first year. In the second year, cut off all runners that extend into the space between the rows.
4. In the spring and late summer, apply 500g of a balanced fertiliser (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) per 10 square metres. After fertilising spray the plants with water to wash off any fertiliser on leaves.
If size doesn't matter...
June-bearing strawberries are top sellers but some people are not swayed by size and plant everbearing strawberries, which offer somewhat smaller strawberries over a longer harvest period. To find out which type you prefer, start out by planting a few of each type.
Harvesting and storing strawberries
Strawberries are picked with their caps on. Pinch off the stem between your thumbnail and index finger. Store the strawberries in shallow containers to avoid bruising. Refrigerate strawberries immediately after picking and wash them only just before using, otherwise they will become soft or mouldy. Freshly picked strawberries will keep for 2 to 3 days in the fridge.
The lifespan of strawberry plants
Strawberries peak 2 to 3 years after planting, then gradually decline and eventually die. Remove the plants as soon as they stop producing fruit. To ensure a continuous supply of strawberries year after year, in the third year of your old strawberries, start with new plants in a different corner of your garden. You should purchase new disease-resistant plants rather than planting runners from your existing plants because they may harbour diseases.
Growing strawberries in containers
Although June-bearing strawberries can be grown in containers, it is best to choose everbearing strawberries, as they grow fewer runners and supply you with a regular harvest from late spring until early autumn. Like strawberries in the garden, container strawberries need to be replaced at least every 2 to 3 years. See also container growing for more tips.
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