Strawberries - Fragaria ananassa
Strawberries will grow best in a soil that is fertile and well drained but moisture holding. They will not tolerate shallow, thin soils that are liable to dry out quickly during periods of dry weather. The site must be sunny and free from shade, they like to fell the warmth of the sun on their face.
It is possible to spread the strawberry season from April to October by carefully selecting early , mid, late season and autumn bearing cultivars.
Planting season - August to September for the summer fruiting cultivars.
This will give the plants enough time to develop a good root system before winter sets in. By planting this early you can harvest a crop of large strawberries the following June and July. It is possible to carry on planting through the late autumn and early spring but these plants won’t be established enough to be cropped in their first summer. It is a tough thing to have do but all of their flowers will have to be cut off to prevent them fruiting.
August to mid-November and the following March for the autumn fruiting cultivars.
The autumn or late season fruiting strawberries are known as ramontant or perpetual fruiting types. These extend the strawberry picking season well into October. In the first year after planting remove the early flush of flowers that are produced around May to allow further development of the plant during the summer. This will encourage the later production of strawberries during the autumn.
Distance between plants – 45cms/18ins
Distance between rows – 60cms/2ft
Planting directions – Plant firmly with the crown or neck of the plant just level with the surface of the soil. If the crown is planted too deeply it could rot away and if it set too high above the soil it will dry out and die. Just make sure that the soil has been gently firmed before any planting takes place to ensure that the newly planted crowns can’t sink into the soft soil.
With strawberries growing so close to the ground they are always the risk of their flowers being damaged by spring frosts. Too try and overcome this threat try to grow them on the higher ground in the garden to lift them out of the frost zone. It doesn’t have to be a hillside 15cms/6ins is sufficient. If your garden is entirely flat it may be worth considering making a raised bed of sorts to achieve the same effect.
Cultivation – Feed the strawberry bed with a top dressing of general fertilise in early March to ensure development of strong healthy plants. Open ground plants will be flowering by May, the soil will absorb several degrees of frost so delay putting straw or plastic underneath the plants until the last moment. Flowers that have been damaged by frost develop a black centre that tells you that the embryo strawberry is useless.
During July it is time for the big clean up of the strawberry plot. Remove and dispose of all of the straw or plastic sheet used to keep the fruit clean. Next cut down all of the summer’s top growth to soil level and dispose of the debris. Weed and clear between the plants and give them a top dressing of a general fertiliser to help them rebuild the crowns for next year. Next year’s flower buds are already within the crown and they need as much light and air around them as possible to help them develop before the winter arrives. Apart from watering the plants in dry weather there isn’t anything else to do until next spring.
During June and July the strawberry plants will begin to send out runners, which if left to their own devices will quickly root and turn the strawberry bed into a tangled mess of unwanted extra plants and runners. These runners can be used to produce new plants, but if you don’t need them for propagation purposes then cut them off close to the mother plant as soon as they appear.
Select only virus free and healthy looking plants to propagate from. As the runner extends it will produce mini strawberry plants along its length. Not all of these are required for propagation purposes. Peg down the first plantlet produced into a 9cm/3.5ins pot filled with potting compost using a staple made from soft garden wire. Cut off the runner beyond this point, half bury the pot amongst the strawberry plants and water it regularly to encourage root development. By the end of August the roots of the new plant will have filled the pot and it will be ready for potting on into a larger pot. To carry out this next stage of the operation cut through the runner to free the young plant from the mother plant, trim the runner to tidy up matters and take the new strawberry plant to the potting bench. Knock the plant out of the 9cm/3.5ins pot and pot it into a 15cm/6ins pot containing potting compost, water it in to settle the plant and place in a cold frame or on the north side of a wall. Allow the plant to be exposed to all weather conditions right up until the turn of the year. At this stage protect the plant from the cold and wet of winter weather. By March it will be ready to plant out in the open round remembering not to allow it to produce fruit in its first season.
When harvesting strawberries it is important not to touch the actual berry itself, they bruise very easily and after a few hours there will be bluish marks on the fruit where it has been damaged. Always pick strawberries by holding nipping through the stalk just behind the shoulders of the fruit and using it as a carrying handle. Gently place, never drop the strawberry in a container lined with soft paper or cloth and don’t stack them more than two fruits high.
Never pick strawberries during the hottest part of the day, the fruits suffer in the heat will be tasteless. Pick them in the cool of the morning or evening and store somewhere cool. In the salad compartment of a refrigerator they will keep in good condition for about three or four days.
After a while strawberries will be attacked by virus diseases and these are difficult to control. The leaves and fruits become pale and distorted also the general appearance of the plants gives cause for concern. To avoid this it is always best to create a fresh strawberry patch every three years on another piece of the garden using brand new, virus free plants.
It is a false economy to propagate plants from your old stock, make a clean start every time. The old plants can be quite safely be put on the compost heap.