As a perennial crop, strawberries can’t be beat. They are easy- EASY- to grow and return a nearly quart of berries per plant crop for several years. I am referring to June-bearing plants, which are the ones to plant for for a large seasonal crop with the intention of turning some into jam or desserts. Everbearing or Day Neutral plants will trade the large luschious crop for a dribble of smaller, but also tasty berries all summer long. It is OK to plant both kinds, although in different places as the long term care is different.
I purchase my plants online, as it is easier to get the varietals I prefer that way. There are many varieties from which to choose. The online nurseries usually do a lovely job rating the strawberry plant varieties in terms of sweetness, berry size, and disease resistance. However, they are not always the best source of information for which plants grow best in which state. Check with your state’s extension office to be sure. I find the Ohio State Extension Office to be an invaluable information source for much of my gardening needs.
Unfortunately, the Ohio State Extension Office told me I cannot plant strawberries in the fall, like is sometimes recommended in more southern climates. Rats, because I am itching to get started on another bed now!
My current strawberry bed is in the middle of year three production. I pick nearly two quarts of wonderfully delicious berries daily in a season that lasts about 3 weeks. However, the production will begin to decline in a year or two because strawberry plantings are at their best for only 3-5 years. If I plan right, my new bed will begin producing just as the old bed begins to give out. It may be strawberry crazy during that first overlap year, but somehow I don’t think I will mind.
Raised beds in full sun are great for strawberries. The plants must have good drainage to stay healthy and minimize slugs that also like the berries. Create a raised bed in a managable size, such as no more than 4 feet across. This way there is no need to walk in it for either planting, weeding, or harvesting. The strawberry plants will grow in a tangled “mat” (some say this is where they get their name of straw-berry, from the folilage tossed around this way and that). My plants grow so densely, that very little weeding must be done.
While preparing for the new bed, prepare to protect the crop from birds. I bought four metal fence stakes from the Home Store, and pounded them in at each corner. I wrapped chicken wire around the stakes and tied one end with a little twine. I also folded the chicken wire over for ease in reaching the berries without untying the fence. The whole fence is about 2-1/2 feet high from the bottom of the raised bed, or 1-1/2 feet higher than the strawberries. At this point, the birds can still reach the berries, too. When it draws near to harvest time, tie more twine at the top of the chicken wire in a criss-cross pattern across the bed. I can still easily reach the berries through it the wide squares, but the birds are hesitant to fly in. My fence stays up year round, but tying the twine each season is only a matter of a few minutes. Very easy to do.
This winter I will order my new strawberry plants and plant them in April according to the package directions. I am afraid I do not always follow spacing directions well, but get good results nonetheless. It is important, however, to plant the crowns exactly as stated. Crowns should be halfway in the soil. Crowns planted too low will rot and crowns planted too high will dry out and also die. Crowns planted just right will produce lovely berries for another 3-5 years.
Now I get to decide, Redchief or Surecrop? My current bed is planted with Honeyoe, which while quite good, are a trifle too sweet and too soft for my taste. I remember, with a memory sweetened by time, a Surecrop bed with berries that tasted of quintessential summer and sunshine! However, friends tell me that Redchief is the only strawberry for them. At least I have plenty of time to decide.