April is an excellent time to plant strawberries in Iowa. They are easy to grow and produce a good crop with reasonable care. There are basically 3 types of strawberries. June-bearers are the most widely planted type of strawberry. They produce one crop per year, the majority of fruit ripening in June. The second type of strawberry is the everbearing strawberry. Everbearing varieties typically produce a spring and fall crop with little flowering or fruiting in the summer months. The day-neutral varieties are the third and newest type of strawberry. They are regarded as an improved, more productive everbearing type strawberry. Day-neutral varieties perform best during the cooler periods of the growing season and are not very productive during hot weather.
Strawberries require full sun and well-drained soils. When selecting a site for the strawberry planting, do not plant in ground that is heavily infested with perennial weeds such as quackgrass. Weed control will be a major problem. Also, avoid sites where strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers have been grown the last two years to prevent possible root disease problems.
Purchase virus-free strawberry plants from a reliable, reputable mailorder nursery or garden center. Plants from an old planting or the neighbor's garden are often disease-infested. If planting must be delayed after purchase, place moist material, such as wood shavings or sphagnum moss, around the roots and place the plants in a plastic bag. Store the plants in the refrigerator at 32 to 40 F. They can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
Remove the strawberry plants from storage when ready to plant. Trim off the older leaves, place the roots of the plants in water for an hour then plant immediately. Set each plant in the ground so the crown of the plant is even with the soil surface.
The type of strawberry determines plant spacing. June-bearing strawberries are planted 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 4 feet apart. Runners will develop and root freely to form a matted row about 2 feet wide. Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are typically planted in beds consisting of 2 or 3 rows that are 1 foot apart. The plants are spaced 1 foot apart within the rows. A 2-foot-wide path remains between beds. Any runners that develop on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are removed and the plants are maintained as large, single plants.
Immediately after planting the strawberries, water them in well and apply a starter fertilizer solution to aid establishment. A starter fertilizer solution can be prepared by adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of a complete, water-soluble fertilizer, such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10, to each gallon of water. Apply 1 to 2 cups to each plant.
During the first growing season all the blossoms should be removed from June-bearing strawberries. Remove all blossoms on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries until early July. Any flowers which bloom after this period may be allowed to develop into fruit. Flower removal aids plant establishment.
Suggested June-bearing strawberry varieties for Iowa include Allstar, Honeoye, Surecrop, Redchief, Jewel, and Kent. Tristar and Tribute are good day-neutral varieties.
This article originally appeared in the April 6, 1994 issue, p. 41.