Growing strawberries can be fun and healthy too.

Strawberries are a delight in any garden. Strawberries are cultivars mostly developed from Fragaria x ananassa a hybrid plant created in France in the middle of the 18th century by crossing a North American strawberry Fragaria virginiana and a Chilean strawberry F. Chiloensis. I can remember wild strawberries growing along our country road in New Jersey when I was a kid. The strawberries were small but very yummy. These were likely the species F. virginiana.

California is the world’s leading producer of strawberry plants with income of about 60 million dollars. Nurseries produce one billion plants per year of which 600 million are grown by California farmers and the rest go elsewhere. California is well suited by climate to produce both plants and berries. Consequently, California provides 80 percent of fresh and processed strawberries in the U.S and these sales contribute 750 million dollars annually. The UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program since the 1930’s has developed more than 60 patented varieties of strawberries which have, increased strawberry yield from about 6 tons/acre in the 1950s to more than 30 tons/acre today.

Most of us associate strawberries with spring, but it is important to plant them in the fall so you will have a few to eat next spring. Another advantage of growing your own strawberries organically is that you may avoid some pesticides residues. Strawberries have been number one for several years among the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables designated by the Environmental Working Group as contaminated with pesticides even though within FDA standards, see: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php.

There are basically three kinds of strawberries; Short day or June-bearing, ever bearing and day-neutral. June-bearing strawberries produce a large crop of generally large berries over a short period usually a month. June bearing berries are good if you want to preserve some as jam or freezing. However, if you want fresh berries throughout the year and don’t mind picking smaller and fewer, go with a day-neutral or an everbearing variety. Day-neutral strawberries are a modern cultivar developed from everbearing plants. The modern day-neutral varieties were developed to produce continuously all summer and into the fall whereas, the older original everbearing types produced two to three separate crops through the growing season.

Common June-bearing types which do well in our area are: Chandler, Camarosa, Camino Real, Merced and Ventana. Day-neutral strawberries are: Albion a disease resistant variety for fresh consumption and others widely adapted are: Cabrillo, Aromas, Diamante, Monterey, Seascape, Hecker, and Portola. Quinault is an everbearing variety.

Planting: Strawberries prefer a rich loamy, well- drained moist soil with a soil pH in the range of 5.5-7.5. Add compost or well-aged manure before planting for nutrients and to increase water retention as strawberries do best when soil is kept moist. Solutions of fish emulsion can be used to fertilize during the season. How many strawberries should I plant? At least 7-10 plants for fresh strawberry consumption per person and for preserving by jam or freezing 100 or more.  

Planting patterns vary by berry type. June bearing plantings need to allow for lots of runners and daughter plants. Therefore, the spacing is two feet between plants and it will be necessary to control the number of runners that are allowed to stay in the patch because crowded runners enhance disease and suppress crop production.

Day-neutral plants will not have as many runners and can be initially planted at one foot apart, but again not all runners and daughter plants may be needed. Runners should be rooted at roughly 6 inches spacings. It is important to set plants at the right depth so that the middle of the crown is at the surface. Planting too deep may cause the plant to rot and too shallow will cause them to dry out.

Irrigation: Strawberry plants have shallow roots and require consistent moist soil throughout the growing season. Drip irrigation with built in emitters keeps the moisture away from the fruit and   conserves water by placing it where it is needed. It is generally run every day during the summer for 1-2 hours. Strawberries should be mulched with straw, dried grass or other material to keep the fruit clean and conserve moisture. Plastic mulch can be used also.

Several strawberry growing instruction videos are at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: https://www.groworganic.com/search?q=videos+on+strawberries. For comprehensive information on growing strawberries and sources for plants see: https://strawberryplants.org/. Happy strawberry gardening!

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.

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