Nothing beats the taste of strawberries ripened to perfection in your backyard.
Strawberry cultivars are separated into three distinct plant types based on their response to photoperiod (hours of sunlight received per day): June-bearing, ever-bearers, and day-neutrals.
Strawberry plants tolerate many soil types but often do well on light-sandy soil with high organic matter. In choosing where to plant, avoid sites that are flat, low-lying, or poorly drained. Good water and air drainage will boost your success, as strawberries don’t tolerate “wet feet”.
Select a site with some elevation and a slight slope—the higher ground will promote cold air drainage to afford some frost protection. Planting in a raised bed will help avoid standing water in the bed.
Once you have selected a site, obtain a soil test to check nutrient levels and pH, sampling the soil six to eight inches deep. Recognize that it takes time to adjust soil pH; if adding lime or sulfur is recommended based on a soil test, it will need to be applied well before planting.
For the best yields, plant in full sun. Do not plant strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes have been grown, as these plants can harbor verticillium wilt, a serious strawberry disease.
Weeds, especially perennial weeds, can be troublesome in a strawberry patch. Preparing the soil a year or two in advance may help.
What about varieties? Those suggested for Illinois June-bearing strawberries are Earliglow, Honeoye, Allstar, and Jewel. Suggested day-neutral varieties are Seascape and Albion, and suggested ever-bearers are Ozark Beauty and Ogallala. Selecting the best possible cultivar is vital to your success; be aware that each cultivar may have different management strategies.
It is critical to plant strawberries at the proper time and the proper depth. Place plants in the soil so that the root system spreads out. Barely cover the roots with soil at the point where they originate from the crown. If the crown is covered or the roots are exposed, the plant will do poorly or die.
Plants need to be watered in the planting hole or immediately upon planting. Waiting for rain to provide the irrigation is a common mistake.
Early set plants produce early runners. These bear more fruit the following spring than runner plants formed late in the season. It is difficult to obtain a good stand when plants are set after the arrival of warm, dry weather (May) unless irrigation is available. These are for the June-bearing strawberries.
Strawberries require a consistent supply of water. Mulching has the benefit of reducing weed competition and conserving moisture. When adding mulch, be sure not to use one infested with weeds. Straw is commonly used, but it must be placed over plants for winter protection before damage occurs. Removal of straw in the spring must be timely, as weather allows, to avoid plant injury from late spring frosts.
Remember to remove all flowers from strawberry plants the first year to allow them to produce runner plants for next year.
Use exclusive techniques to keep pets, deer, birds, and other animals away from your strawberries so you can enjoy as many sweet, juicy strawberries as possible.
Andrew Holsinger is a Horticulture Educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery counties. The Green Thumb page is coordinated by DeKalb County Master Gardener Janice Weber.
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