Annuals, Edible fruit, Perennials
Standard market strawberries are hybrids (Fragaria x ananassa). Plants have toothed, roundish, medium green leaves and white flowers. They grow to 6–8 in. tall, spreading by long runners to about 1 ft. across. June-bearing types produce one crop per year in late spring or early summer; in general, they are the highest-quality strawberries you can grow. Everbearing and day-neutral kinds (which are nearly identical in garden performance) have the potential to flower and set fruit over a longer season. Their harvest tends to peak in early summer, then it continues (often unevenly) through fall. The exact fruiting pattern depends on variety and temperature: plants stop flowering when the thermometer rises above 85°F/29°C, so in practice you can expect everbearing performance along the coast and two crops a year—spring and fall—in hot-summer interior climates. Everbearers put out fewer runners than June bearers.
Strawberries of one variety or another can be grown across the country, though it is hard to succeed with them where soil and water salinity are very high. Plant on flat ground if soil drains well or is high in salts, on a 5–6-in. mound if soil is heavy or drains poorly. (If soil is high in salts and drains poorly, plant in containers.) For a small harvest, grow a dozen plants in a sunny flower or vegetable garden; or put them in boxes, tubs, or hanging baskets (which will keep them out of reach of slugs and snails) on the patio. For a big crop of berries, set plants 14–18 in. apart, in rows 2–2 1/2 ft. apart.
Planting season usually depends on when local nurseries offer plants. In mild-winter areas, set out June bearers in late summer or fall for a crop the next spring; in colder climates, plant in early spring for harvest the following year. Set out everbearing plants in spring for summer and fall berries (in mild-winter areas, they may be available for fall planting).
Plant carefully. Be sure soil is well-drained and acidic (most varieties do not tolerate alkalinity). Plant with the crown slightly above soil level (a buried crown will rot); topmost roots should be 1/4 in. beneath the soil (exposed roots will dry out). Plants need consistent moisture during the bearing season. Feed June bearers twice a year—very lightly when growth begins and again, more heavily, after fruiting. Everbearing types prefer consistent light feedings. Heavy feeding of either type in spring leads to excessive plant growth, soft fruit, and fruit rot.
Mulch to deter weeds, conserve moisture, and keep berries clean. Hasten spring growth by planting through clear or black plastic mulch, and by covering plants with floating row covers (remove covers as soon as flowers appear). Pinch off the earliest blossoms produced in the first year to increase plants’ vigor. Don’t let plants dry out. Drip irrigation is ideal to help reduce disease problems, but overhead irrigation is satisfactory.
The majority of varieties reproduce by runners, though some make few or no offsets. Pinch off all runners to get large plants with smaller yields of big berries; let offsets grow 7–10 in. apart for heavy yields of smaller berries. When your plants have made enough offsets, pinch off additional runners.
Most June bearers benefit greatly from renovation. After harvest, remove foliage with a lawn mower set high so it won’t injure the crowns. If diseases were a problem, send leaves out with the trash. Water and fertilize to encourage new growth. This is also a good time to reduce a dense planting by removing the old mother plants and leaving younger, more productive daughter plants.
Some home gardeners follow the example of commercial growers, who treat strawberries as annuals. Plant in summer or early fall, usually with a plastic mulch; remove runners as they develop; after harvest, tear out plants; set out new plants in another location the following year (don’t replant in the same location until at least 2 years have passed). Benefits are healthier plants, fewer weeds, and bigger fruit. June-bearing ‘Chandler’ is especially well adapted to this system, but almost any variety can be grown this way if planted at just the right time (you may have to experiment). In coldest zones, home gardeners are treating some everbearing varieties, particularly ‘Quinault’, as spring-planted annuals.
Strawberries need winter mulch in cold climates. Cover with a 4–6-in. layer of straw or other light, weed-free, organic material in late fall. When temperatures warm in spring, rake mulch between plants. Plants are subject to many diseases: fruit rots (botrytis, anthracnose, leather rot), leaf diseases (leaf spot, leaf scorch, leaf blight), crown diseases (anthracnose), root diseases (verticillium wilt, red stele, black root rot), and viruses. Root weevils, aphids, mites, slugs, and snails are among potential pests. To reduce problems, use certified disease-free plants; also remove diseased foliage and ripe or rotten fruit. Replace plants with new ones as they begin to decline, usually after three years; or, better yet, start a new bed with new plants.
Varieties tend to be regionally adapted.
‘Benton’. Good crop of flavorful, somewhat soft berries. Virus tolerant, mildew resistant. Outstanding in the Northwest, especially in mountain and intermountain areas.
‘Camarosa’. Huge, conical berries over a long season. Susceptible to mildew. Adapted to California, especially southern areas.
‘Cavendish’. Attractive large fruit. Can produce well the first year it’s planted, and resists red stele. Bred for winter hardiness. Performs well in the interior.
‘Chandler’. Large, juicy berries over a long period. Excellent flavor, good texture. Some resistance to leaf spot. Grows well in Southern California. Good as an annual elsewhere.
‘Guardian’. Large, all-purpose fruit with good flavor. Disease resistant. Recommended for cold-winter regions.
‘Honeoye’. Large, symmetrical, bright red fruit with sweet-tart flavor. Recommended for cold-winter regions.
‘Hood’. Large, conical to wedge-shaped berries for fresh eating and processing. Excellent flavor and early ripening. Resists mildew. Good in the Pacific Northwest.
‘Mesabi’. Heavy-yielding variety with large, smooth berries, excellent flavor. Resists red stele and leaf diseases. Particularly strong performance away from the coasts.
‘Pajaro’. Large, conical berries with good flavor. Long fruiting period. Best in California.
‘Puget Reliance’. Large crop of big, tasty berries; excellent flavor when processed. Vigorous plant. Tolerant of viruses. Adapted to the Pacific Northwest.
‘Puget Summer’. A heavy-yielding, late-season variety. Holds its fruit up off the ground, avoiding fruit rot. Susceptible to powdery mildew; disease resistant otherwise. Excellent, sweet flavor. Best in the Pacific Northwest.
‘Rainier’. Good-size berries that hold size throughout long season. Fine flavor. Vigorous plant. Fair tolerance to root rot. Best in the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades.
‘Sequoia’. One of the tastiest strawberries. Bears for many months. Resistant to alkalinity, yellows, and most leaf diseases. Developed for coastal California, but widely adapted, even to cold winters.
‘Shuksan’. Soft, mealy berries. Excellent frozen; good fresh. Tolerant of alkalinity. Resistant to botrytis, viruses, red stele. Good away from the coasts.
‘Tillamook’. Large, sweet, attractive berries with red flesh and skin. Open habit makes picking easy; high yielding. Virus tolerant. Good in the Pacific Northwest.
‘Toklat’. Large, sweet berries. Susceptible to botrytis. Well suited to Alaska.
‘Albion’. Long, conical fruit with excellent flavor. Resists verticillium wilt and crown rot. Good in California.
‘Fort Laramie’. Good yield of berries over a long season. Excellent flavor. Tolerates –30°F/–34°C without mulch. Hardy in mountain states, High Plains, and milder parts of Alaska. Also good in Southern California.
‘Quinault’. Large, attractive berries are tasty, rather soft. Good producer of runners. Resists viruses and red stele. Susceptible to botrytis. Developed for the Pacific Northwest but is widely adapted. This variety is grown as an annual in Alaska.
‘Seascape’. Good producer of large berries. Very good for eating fresh, for jam, and for freezing. Excellent virus resistance. Very widely adapted, even in Hawaii. Good choice for annual production in colder climates.
‘Selva’. First flush of fruit comes as late as July, but produces heavily through fall. Mild flavor develops best in warm areas; huge for everbearing variety. Gets red spider mite, leaf spotting in mild climates, but has good resistance to red stele. Does best in California.
‘Tribute’. Medium to large berries with excellent flavor. Resists red stele and verticillium wilt. Widely adapted, but prone to viruses in Pacific Northwest.
‘Tristar’. Large berries with excellent flavor. Bears well the first year. Resists red stele and mildew but is moderately susceptible to viruses. Widely adapted.
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