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Choosing and planting strawberries

Strawberries and peas

Be forewarned --- once you taste a homegrown strawberry, you'll never be able to eat another berry from the grocery store.  Even ripe fruits plucked fresh from a you-pick operation don't hold a candle to the explosion of flavor inside a strawberry grown in the humus-rich, no-till garden.  Luckily, strawberries are pretty simple to grow in your backyard, so you'll be able to feed your new addiction.

Your first step when planting strawberries is variety selection.  Although everbearing strawberries look good on paper, I find June bearers to be less work with higher returns, so I recommend the beginning homesteader start there.  Even if you stick with June bearers, you can count on a full month of strawberries if you plant early, midseason, and late varieties (and be aware that "June bearers" actually fruit in April and May in the south and middle of the country --- the name simply refers to the single annual crop.)  Your extension service is the best source for recommendations of varieties that do well in your area.

Strawberries can be planted in the early spring or in the fall.  I tend to plant in the fall when expanding my own strawberry patch but in the spring when buying in fresh plants --- that way, I don't lose my expensive new stock to drought.

Planting strawberries You'll get the most value for your money if you buy bare-rooted strawberries in sets of 25 from an online nursery.  The strawberries will come with few or no leaves and will look quite dead, but when planted with the roots spread out just below the soil surface and the growing crown peeking up slightly above the ground, new leaves will soon appear.

There are several different methods of growing strawberries, and your initial plant spacing will depend on which technique you plan to follow.  I put in a bit more work to get tastier fruits, spacing my plants 12 inches apart and removing all of the runners --- this is called the hill system.  If you're more of a laissez faire gardener, you might prefer the matted row system, in which plants are spaced much further apart and allowed to fill up the gaps with runners.  The benefit of the matted row system is that it's less work in year one and you don't have to buy as many plants; the downside is that you'll spend more time next year picking lots of small fruits that often aren't quite as tasty as the fewer big fruits you get from the hill system.

Weekend Homesteader paperback No matter which spacing method you choose, be aware that strawberries can handle a little bit more shade then most vegetables but will give you the sweetest fruits in full sun.  Strawberries can also become quickly overwhelmed by weeds, so mulch them carefully and repeatedly and hand weed as necessary.  If you're planting into weedy ground, you might choose to lay down a kill mulch (see Weekend Homesteader: May) and plant your strawberries into small holes cut in the cardboard.

This week's lunchtime series is exerpted from Weekend Homesteader: February, which is available for 99 cents from Amazon's kindle store.  The ebook also includes a primer on choosing and caring for a backyard flock of chickens, information on buying in bulk, and tips for creating your own apprenticeship.  If you enjoy the book, please consider leaving me a review.


This post is part of our Easy Berries lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Anna

How many years will a strawberry patch produce using the hill system before you have to replant with new plants?

Comment by Kevin Wed Jan 18 08:37:20 2012
That's an excellent question. I'm covering the answer in more depth in today's lunchtime post, but I generally let beds produce for two years in my garden before ripping them out.
Comment by anna Wed Jan 18 09:38:53 2012
I've been reading up on planting strawberries and it seems that most sources recommend planting June bearing in matted rows and ever-bearing in the hill system. I ordered Honeoye and Ozark Beauty on your recommendation and I just wanted to verify that you have success planting both types in the hill method before I go ahead and do them both that way too. Thanks! I can't wait for all the perennials I'm planting to produce!
Comment by Dave V Thu Mar 15 20:19:12 2012
Dave V --- Yup, I've happily used the hill system with both June bearers and ever-bearers. In fact, I get even better results with June bearers, but I just get better results with them in general. Good luck with your new strawberry bed!
Comment by anna Fri Mar 16 14:00:38 2012