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Garden Improvement Information Series

Growing Strawberries in Home Gardens

Growing strawberries in your home garden can be quite rewarding. And many types of excellent strawberries are available to the home gardeners of the Pacific Northwest.
Strawberry plants are equally at home in a large strawberry patch as well as a select few planted in among the flower garden. Or in a strawberry barrel or in a clay strawberry pot.
Several of the Alpine varieties generally do not produce runners, but do produce small red sweet berries. These strawberries can easily be grown in rockerys or in a strawberry barrel on your patio.
And the beauty of growing all strawberries is that they are quite easy to grow and require minimum care.
And fresh ripe juicy red strawberries picked from your own garden is one of life's little joys.

Selection and preparation of the growing area:
Select an area where there is full sun because the plants require lots of sun to grow sweet berries. The plant leaves also need to dry out somewhat to help avoid diseases. Avoid those areas where a spring frost may injure early blossoms. If this cannot be avoided, be prepared to protect your strawberry plants from these frosts.
Or select one of the hardy varieties, such as Fort Laramie.
The soil preferred is a loose fairly fertile well drained soil, slightly acidic with a pH of 5.0 to 6.0. A sandy loam to a gravely well drained soil is ideal. When preparing the soil mix in ample amounts of well-composted organic material. This adds nutrients to the soil and helps to hold in some moisture during the growing season.

Planting strawberry plants:
Strawberry plants are usually planted in the spring, when the danger of hard frosts have passed. However, strawberry runners or "new" plants are planted in the fall where the winters are milder. Each strawberry plant requires about one square foot of garden space for optimum growth and berry production. Therefore plant the strawberry plants one foot apart in rows two feet apart, or in double rows spaced one foot apart, and each double row two feet apart.
A good mulch added around each strawberry plant helps to maintain moisture and keeps the weeds down. And helps to keep the sand particles and other materials off of the berries.
For maximum berry production many growers remove all blossoms and those long horizontal stems called runners the first year. The plant therefore is allowed to establish itself easier by putting all of its energy into growing a strong plant. What we practice at our farm is to remove only some of the blossoms and all but one of the runners from each plant the first year. By doing this we get some berries and new plants each year. Over the years it did not make much difference in the strawberry plants growth.
However, we have built up our soil over the years so that it is very fertile and nearly ideal for growing strawberries.
Another method of planting that takes advantage of the fact that most strawberry plants produce these long horizontal stems called runners. These runners will produce new strawberry plants at the runner's end and along the stem's length. To take advantage of this, plant your plants two feet apart and when the new plants develop along the runners, place the attached new plants in the rows to fill in where desired. A belt of plants two feet wide can be produced this way for the following year. When planting plants purchased bare root, spread or fan out the roots in the planting hole. Set the top of the plant's crown just above the soil line. If planted deeper the crown may rot, and if planted out of the ground the roots may dry out to much.

Fertilizing:
Seders newly planted spring plants with 2 pounds of 5-10-10 per 100 foot row. Place the fertilizer about three to four inches from the crown and work it well into the soil.
For established plants fertilize in the spring when new growth is first noticed. Apply again in late Summer as the plants are starting their blossom buds in the fall and storing food energy in their crowns for next year's crop.
One caution: Do not over fertilze at any time because excessive plant leaf growth may result in poorly developed berries.

Maintainance:
Strawberries require little care, once they are established. Usually just keeping the weeds out of the strawberry patch and appling watering when the soil becomes dry is about it. A good mulch added around each strawberry plant helps to maintain moisture and keeps the weeds down. If birds, deer or other animals become a problem, a stout fence works best to protect your strawberries.

Harvesting:
Harvest your strawberries when they are completely bright red, with no green or white spots. Pick each berry by carefully snapping it from the strawberry plant.

Winter Protection:
Place a 3-4 inch layer of fall leaves or hay over the plant beds and around the plants, but allow the strawberry plants to polk through. This mulch is usually needed where the Winter temperatures drop below 20 degrees F. In the Spring the remaining mulch can be pulled away from the plants and worked into the soil.

Crop Rotation:
Strawberry plants genererally produce well for about three to four years. Then their berry production falls off and diseases start to take their toll. Remove and save the fourth year growth of runners to plant in a new strawberry patch location. The old bed should then be plowed under and a different use for the old planting area be found. The old strawberry patch areas should remain free from strawberry plants for at least three years.
This procedure is recomended to discourage strawberry plant related pests and diseases.

In Summary:
Strawberries are a easy plant to grow in most areas and require little, but careful care. And the results can be quite rewarding.

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