Fresh strawberries are delicious in desserts and fruit salads. They also make an excellent topping for ice cream, pancakes, and breakfast cereals. Fruit not eaten fresh, can be processed into jams or frozen.
Strawberries are well suited to the home garden. They require a relatively small amount of space in the garden, are hardy throughout Iowa, and are easy to grow.
Types of Strawberries
There are basically 3 types of strawberries. June-bearers are the most widely planted type of strawberry. June-bearing strawberries produce one crop per year with the majority of the fruit ripening in June.
The second type of strawberry is the everbearing strawberry. Everbearing varieties typically produce a spring and late summer crop with little flowering or fruiting during the remainder of the growing season.
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 will not flower and fruit during hot weather. If weather conditions are favorable, day-neutral strawberries will bear fruit from June through September.
Strawberries require full sun and well-drained soils. Leaf, root, and fruit diseases are often problems in poorly drained, wet soils. When selecting a site for the strawberry planting, do not plant in ground that is heavily infested with perennial weeds. Control of perennial weeds can be extremely difficult. Also, avoid sites where strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers have been grown in the last three years to reduce the risk of root disease problems.
Source of Plants
Purchase strawberry plants from a reliable, reputable garden center or mail-order nursery. Plants from an old planting are often disease infested. If planting must be delayed after purchase, place the plants in a plastic bag and place moist material, such as wood shavings or peat moss, around their roots. The plants will die if their roots are allowed to dry out. Store the strawberry plants in the refrigerator at 32 to 40ÃƒÂ»F. Plants can be safely stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
The type of strawberry determines the planting design. June-bearing strawberries are planted 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 4 feet apart. Runners will develop and root freely and eventually form a matted row of plants about 2 feet wide.
Everbearing and day-neutral varieties are typically planted in beds consisting of two or three rows that are 1 foot apart. The plants are spaced 1 foot apart within the rows. There should be a 2-foot-wide path between beds. Any runners that develop on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are removed and the plants are maintained as large, single plants.
Early spring (late March and April) is the best time to plant strawberries. Remove the strawberry plants from storage when ready to plant. Trim off the older leaves, place the roots 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.
Immediately after planting, water the strawberry plants 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 one gallon of water. Apply 1 or 2 cups to each plant.
All blossoms should be removed from June-bearing strawberry plants during the first growing season. If the berries are allowed to develop, they will reduce plant growth, runner production, and next year's crop. Check the plants once a week and remove the blossoms by pinching or cutting. Flowering should stop by early July.
Remove all blossoms on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries for a period of 6 weeks after planting. Any flowers that develop after this period may be allowed to develop into fruit.
Irrigation and Weed Management
Strawberry plants need 1 inch of water per week for adequate growth. Water the new strawberry planting once a week during dry weather.
Weed control is essential to insure optimal plant growth. For home gardeners, cultivation is the most practical control measure. Cultivate often, but shallow, to control weeds. Periodic hand weeding may also be necessary.
Suggested June-bearing strawberry varieties for Iowa include 'Earliglow,' 'Honeoye,' 'Surecrop,' 'Redchief,' 'Allstar,' 'Jewel,' and 'Lateglow.' 'Tribute' and 'Tristar' are excellent day-neutral strawberries.
This article originally appeared in the March 13, 1998 issue, p. 17.