Our Kitchen Garden is full of delicious fruits and veggies for the home gardener, and strawberries are some of our favorites. Offering juicy red fruits and charming flowers ranging from white to pink, a strawberry patch is the perfect addition to virtually any edible garden. Our mouths are already watering just imagining the home-baked strawberry rhubarb pie, fresh jam, and strawberry margaritas we can whip up — that is, if we can resist the urge to pick and eat them all immediately as a summer snack! We've put together a few tips and tricks to help you get the most out of these fun fruits.
"Ever-Bearing" vs. "June-Bearing" Varieties
As is the case with many plants, strawberry plants take their flowering cues from nature — specifically, the amount of daylight they receive — and breeders have developed two main groups that respond slightly differently to these day lengths: so-called "June-bearing" plants and "ever-bearing" ones. These both begin to flower and set fruit as daylight increases in the summer months — often earlier than June. The difference is that, whereas June-bearing varieties produce one primary crop, ever-bearing varieties continue to produce fruit throughout the summer. Many gardeners like to grow both varieties for a varied and continued harvest. Oregon’s large, June-bearing strawberries are the “Gold Standard” for sweet, juicy berries that make the BEST jam.
Ever-bearing strawberries benefit from small doses of nitrogen fertilizer as frequently as once every couple of weeks during the growing season. June-bearing strawberries, on the other hand, benefit from a larger dose of fertilizer one week after the year’s harvest and following "renovation" — a leaf-pruning process that reinvigorates June-bearing varieties in which the plant's leaves are cut back to the crown.
In general, strawberries grow best in rich, well-draining soil in full sun, although some afternoon shade is acceptable, as this can help to protect your plants — and fruits — from summer temperatures in excess of 90°F. If you don't enjoy soil that is naturally well-draining, consider planting your strawberries in mounded rows, in raised beds at least 12" deep, or even in containers. Another option is to amend clay soils with sandy loam, compost, and dehydrated chicken manure.
You want to space strawberry plants 8 - 18” apart. Keep in mind that ever-bearing plants are often larger and should generally be spaced out on the upper end of this range as a result. Once they are in the ground, mulch around your plants to help retain moisture in the soil, protect your plants from spring cold and summer heat, and shield them from soil-borne diseases. It is also best to use cold frames or row covers to prevent late frost damage during early spring.
Keep the roots of your strawberry plants moist but not soaking. Watering between 1 and 3 times per week in spring and summer would be typical without the help of rainfall.
Maximizing Your Harvest
Because even very young strawberry plants form new plants on runners, you are going to want to remove these runners from the parent plant as soon as you notice them in order to encourage the mother plant to invest its energy into berry production instead. Under ideal conditions, one plant will yield roughly a quart of berries per year, although ever-bearing varieties generally out-produce June-bearers in the first year.
Strawberries produce berries for 3 to 4 years before the plants tend to decrease in vigor. To get the most out of your original plants, in the fourth year of life, you may allow a few runners to grow unimpeded and form new plants. Then, you can transplant these into a new area to start a fresh patch! Of course, you can always start a different patch with new plants, as OSU suggests, if you want to try out a new variety or two — or if you just want a clean start!
At Cornell Farm, we offer countless varieties of fruits, veggies, herbs, and more in our Kitchen Garden — including many potted and bare-root strawberries — and our team is always happy to help you in picking out the best varieties for your unique situation and needs.