In the spring and summer a berry patch will reward you every time you pass. Starting in mid-April fragrant red fruits appear under leaves dotted with morning dew. Their numbers multiply quickly and soon it will be time to make the first berry jams of spring. Strawberry jam really doesn’t need sugar. Soooo delicious all on its own! This is one of those fruits that anyone can grow, whether you have a huge yard with space for a dedicated strawberry patch or no yard but a sunny porch or balcony (where you can grow a good number of berries in a strawberry pot). And there’s good reason to grow your own: strawberries are one of the ubiquitous “Dirty Dozen” fruits—those that are generally ridden with high levels of pesticide residue, even after you wash them.
Site and Soil:
Strawberries need a minimum of six hours of sun per day. Soil that is high in organic matter is absolutely necessary. To get your strawberries off to a good start, clear the area of all weeds and grass, and dig two to three inches of compost into the top few inches of soil. Besides requiring rich soil. Strawberries also prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Test your soil for pH, and then amend it if needed to raise its acidity level. Adding a little peat moss to the soil mix can accomplish this.
Strawberries hate sitting in water. They need consistent moisture, but will rot if the site drains poorly. If your site has poor drainage, consider building a raised bed.
Planting strawberries is fairly straightforward. In your prepared bed, dig holes the size of the rootball and plant it with the crown of the plant slightly above soil level. Add half spadeful of Organic Bonemeal to each planting hole. This is a good source of Potassium and Phosphorus which is important for flower and fruit development. Backfill, and water your plants in well.
A final note on planting: don’t plant strawberries in or near an area that is currently growing tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, or eggplant. These plants can harbor verticillium wilt, which can infect strawberry plants.
Everyone grumbles about the sowbugs and other creepy crawlies that burrow into our luscious berries. “Mulch” has typically been the response to this. Recently I watched a brief but interesting video on this subject. The master gardener growing the strawberries suggested “Don’t Mulch” because the bugs are attracted to decomposing matter as well as the fruit. Plastic mulch is another idea, but new daughter plants cannot take root if you use this system. My preference is to NOT MULCH and be as diligent as possible about picking the berries. The benefit of eating organically grown strawberries by far outweighs the inconvenience of a few annoying bugs. Suggestions to this issues will be happily welcomed in the response area.
Strawberries don’t like to sit in water, but they also need fairly consistent water available to them. This is why well-drained soil is so important. Strawberries require one inch of water per week to produce fruit. They are shallow-rooted, and if the soil dries out too much, fruit production will halt. Our practice at SunnysideLOCAL is to water every other day for 10 minutes on drip irrigation from planting until the tempuratures are well into the 80’s. Then we switch to everyday irrigation for 10 minutes through the hot summer months.
Strawberries need constant nutrition to maintain fruit yields. Feed your strawberry plants once per month from June to September with blood meal and bone meal or a good balanced general organic fertilizer.
In addition to the watering and fertilizing, it is important to keep your strawberry patch weed free, especially since weeds will steal moisture and nutrients from your shallow-rooted strawberries very quickly. Keep your berries harvested, and remove any rotting fruit immediately.
Pest and Disease Control
Happily, strawberries have very few pest problems, but the ones they do have can be a real pain. The biggest pest for any berry grower is that of the feathered variety. Birds like nothing better than to devour fresh berries. They always seem to get to mine right before they’re ripe enough to pick. To keep birds off the berries, simply cover the plant or your entire patch with netting. You can purchase bird netting in any home and garden center.
The other main pests of strawberries are slugs and snails. They find strawberry foliage absolutely delectable. To keep them away, the best thing to do is install copper edging around the perimeter of your bed. Slugs and snails won’t cross copper because it creates an electric reaction when it comes into contact with their slime.
As far as diseases go, the most prevalent one among strawberry plants is verticillium wilt4. This fungal disease will not only prevent fruit production, but it will also kill the plant. There is no way to control it once your plants show signs of infection. The only remedy is to pull the plants out and start over in a new area. The best way to avoid having to deal with it is to choose varieties that are certified as being resistant to verticillium wilt.
Once you have your strawberry plants planted and growing happily, you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor for years on end, with very little maintenance on your part.
Albion Strawberry Albion is known for its large to very large fruit. Fruit is mostly conical, very firm and red in color. Its flavor is very good for a day-neutral and is sweet and pleasant. It is a high yielding cultivar with robust runners and stalks. It is resistant to verticillium wilt, phytophthora crown rot and has some resistance to anthracnose crown rot. Albion was developed at UC Davis and is a day neutral everbearer.
Berry Patch in a Bag This portable berry garden was created to give those with limited space the pleasure of delicious strawberries. Albion strawberries, everbearing over a long season, are planted in Smart Pot aeration bags. These bags are especially suited to our hot summer climate giving the roots air circulation during the hottest parts of the year.
Albion strawberries are vigorous growers and produce numerous runners called “daughter” plants. As daughters grow down over the top of the bag, cut an X in the fabric to expose the dirt. Place the rooting side of the plant next to the dirt and secure with a landscape staple or opened paperclip. When more daughter plants appear continue to plant them on the outside of the bag at 8 inch intervals. This technique will allow you to more than double the initial crop.
Berry Patch in a Bag available starting March. Each mini garden with copper plant label and growing instructions.