Starting June with Surprise Strawberries!

Since June is national fruit month I recently wrote an article for a local magazine about growing strawberries in your backyard.  Strawberries are definitely one of the starlets of early summer so it is hardly possible for a gardener to bite into a sweet, juicy, homegrown strawberry and not consider the possibility of growing these delicious creations.

Just the tremendous flavor of a homegrown strawberry gets people motivated to ‘grow their own’ or at least take a trip to a local berry farm or farmer’s market.  And this is all good because home-grown or locally grown strawberries are more nutritious (packed with vitamin C and antioxidants) than most store-bought strawberries because they are much fresher when you eat them.

My fun surprise today was that I spotted my first red berries, even though my area is approximately 3-4 weeks behind its typical growing schedule due to a very cool, rainy spring. However, my ‘Tri-Star’  day neutral strawberries really don’t seem to care about the chilly weather and are making their appearance right on time.

So just when my article, “Spotlight on Strawberries: Enjoying These Sweet Delicacies From Your Own Backyard” hit local newsstands I found myself harvesting and then celebrating (with a little vanilla ice cream) the first strawberries of June!

Hmmm…maybe it’s not that surprising…after all STRAWBERRIES are one of the stars of June and as the old showbiz saying goes, “The show must go on!”

If interested in learning more about growing strawberries read my article appearing in the June Eagle Informer along with some growing tips… 

As seen in June

Put on your gloves, grab your spade and begin your journey of gardening with a purpose.  Gone are the days of flashy gardens whose sole purpose was to make an aesthetic statement.   With the rise of awareness of eating locally grown or home-grown food for better nutrition and to supplement the rising cost of food, gardeners are digging and planting spaces that are more environmentally friendly and productive.   With vegetable gardening up almost 20 percent and community gardening up significantly over last year, growing food for the table is certainly on the rise.  Since last year, according to the latest Garden Writers Association 2011 Garden Trends Report,  nearly two-thirds of respondents who have a garden plan to grow their own vegetables this year.  People are motivated to grow their own food because it yields produce with better taste and nutrition and they like doing something that has a positive impact on their life and the environment.

It just so happens June is national fruit month and our growing zone (USDA zone 6) is well-suited for many fruits such as strawberries, cherries, apples, peaches, nectarines, raspberries and others, but one of the more popular starlets of June is strawberries.  Do a little planning and planting this year and come next year you’ll be harvesting these goodies right at home!

Get Growing with Strawberries:

Strawberries are an ideal fruit to grow in your backyard not only because they are a sweet fruit packed with vitamin C, but because they are a perennial plant meaning once they are planted the plants will come back each year rewarding the home gardener with many tasty harvests.  Additionally, they are one of the most adaptable crops in the world, well suited for a variety of growing methods such as in-ground, raised planters, soil mounds, containers or vertical growing methods.

Did you know that strawberries have the most flavor when grown in areas where days are sunny and nights are cool.  Now if that’s doesn’t make strawberries a good match with the Treasure Valley I don’t know what does!  So head down to your local garden center,  pick out some strawberries and feel good about the purpose of your garden!

Choosing Strawberry Plants:

There are three types of strawberries: June-bearing, Everbearing and Dayneutral.  June-bearing strawberries produce a single crop per year during a 2-3 week period in June in our area.  June-bears may be the strawberry plants you remember as a kid as they are the traditionally grown plants.  They produce many runners and generally provide the largest fruits.  June-bearers set flower buds in Fall and the following spring/early summer is when the single crop is produced.

Everbearing strawberries also set flower buds in the fall, but do so again during summer enabling them to produce two solid crops of fruit throughout the growing season.  During cool growing seasons, Everbearers can also produce a trickle of fruit throughout the summer.  Everbearers do not require as much space as June-bearers as they do not send out many runners but the fruit is usually a bit smaller than June-bearers.  The yield at a given time can also be less than June-bearing strawberries because they produce more than one crop.

Dayneutrals is a third class of strawberries and they set flower buds during the spring, summer and fall.  Dayneutrals offer the ability to bear a continuous crop of fruit from late spring until fall frosts. However, in Idaho they behave more like Everbearers with moderate to heavy crops in the spring and fall and a smaller turnout of berries during mid-summer.  Dayneutral varieties yield more than Everbearers and they do not require as much space as June-bearers or Everbearers because they send out very few runners.

Growing Tips a.k.a. Strawberry Statutes:

Proper Location:  Strawberries require full sun (considered at least 6 hours per day) to produce the most fruit.  They also need well-drained loamy soil.  Because many cultivars are susceptible to Verticillium wilt (a fungal disease common to potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and other stone fruits) avoid planting where these crops have been grown in the last five years.  It is also wise to choose varieties resistant to Verticillium wilt and be sure your plants are disease-free certified.

Tend the Soil:   Heavy soils encourage the development of root diseases so amend your soil with organic matter such as compost or peat moss so that it is lighter, full of nutrients and provides excellent drainage.  Since Strawberries are shallow-rooted and most of the roots are in the top 12 inches it is important to have drainage to this level.  If your site is heavy clay consider a raised planter bed or mound approach to achieve proper drainage.  Another benefit of raised beds is they enable the soil to warm more quickly in the spring giving a head start to the growing season.

Just-right planting:  When planting strawberries be careful of the planting depth. The crown (fleshy part from where leaves develop) must be above the soil level. Use a hand trowel to dig a hole large enough to hold the roots vertically without crowding. Avoid spreading the roots horizontally. Firm the plants in by hand making sure the crown is just above ground level and then water thoroughly.

Strawberries can be planted in matted rows or ribbon rows.  June-bearers are well-suited for matted rows and should be placed 12-18 inches apart in rows 3-4 feet apart. Allow six runners to develop from the mother plant and arrange by hand to fill in rows.  Press the runner gently into the soil and it will soon form roots.  When the rows have filled in clip off new runners and remove runners that extend into the alleys between the rows.

Ribbon row training is best suited for Dayneutral and Everbearing cultivars which develop few runners.  To create a ribbon row, set the plants 4 to 6 inches apart in rows approximately 2-3 feet apart.  Clip off runners weekly during the growing season.  This is a good option for home gardeners that need a higher density method.

Mulch such as sawdust, straw or even plastic sheeting or row cover material can be spread around the plants to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and keep berries off the soil.

No Flowers Allowed: It is best (although disconcerting for the home gardener) to pinch off all flowers that develop on June-bearing and Everbearing cultivars during the planting year.  Removing flowers the first year makes for a healthier plant by encouraging crown, leaf and root development.  For Dayneutrals pinch off flowers that develop until the first of August.  The Dayneutrals are faster to bear fruit as a light first-year crop can be expected in the Fall.

Water Wisely:  Strawberries should receive 1-2 inches of water per week.  To obtain maximum growth, yield and health they should not suffer from lack of water so in very hot dry periods such as July and August adjust the water so they are kept evenly moist and stress-free.  This reduces the possibility of diseases.  If possible, place water directly at the base of the plants using drip hoses, hand watering or irrigation furrows. If you use overhead sprinklers, water early in the morning to allow the foliage and fruit to dry before nightfall.

Winter Over: After several frosts, spread 3-4 inches of mulch around strawberries to protect the plants from cold temperatures and drying winds.  In early spring, before strawberries show new growth, rake the mulch into the alleys or remove from raised planter.

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