Margaret Lauterbach

Are you thinking about planting strawberries next year?

Strawberries
Strawberries TNS

Statesman gardening columnist Margaret Lauterbach is taking some time off. She’ll be writing again in January. But she’s checking her email, so if you have questions, email her at melauter@earthlink.net. Meantime, we’re repeating some of her most popular advice.

Get the right kind of plant for your purposes - Alpine or large-fruited. If the latter, then consider whether you want one main crop in June or “everbearing” plants. So-called everbearing fruits usually produce a heavy crop in early summer, and a lighter crop in fall, not exactly “ever” bearing.

Actually, the everbearing strawberries are “day neutral.” Strawberry plants respond to day length (we’re in a long day zone), and the day neutral aspect ought to allow fruiting all summer, but high heat restricts their blossoming and fruiting, so in effect they produce early and late in the growing season like other everbearing bramble fruits.

Alpine strawberries produce small but flavorful fruit throughout summer, fruit that hangs higher than slugs and sowbugs reach. There’s seldom a lot of fruit at once, but here and there a ripening berry appears. Another advantage to the alpine berries is that they don’t produce runners. I’ve started some from seed, since they’re usually sold as individual plants at a cost of about $10 each. My seed-started alpine strawberries have been hardy here in a container for more than the past five years.

Most people plant the larger-fruited plants. They often come in a dried cluster, so cut the tie and gently tease them apart. You won’t hurt the plant if you trim roots a little, back to 4 or 5 inches in length for easier planting. One thing to be especially mindful of is to never plant the plant too deeply, lest it just rot and die. That “plate” where the above-ground stems meet the roots is called the crown of the plant. The crown must be at or slightly above ground level to survive and produce fruit.

Strawberries need about an inch of water per week (same as the rest of your garden), and are not heavy feeders. They thrive on pre-worked soil fertilized with two pounds of 10-20-20 (or anything similar, with relatively low N) per 100 square feet. Too much nitrogen creates foliage, not fruit.

When fruit touches soil, it’s often destroyed by slugs or sowbugs just before ripening. Some clever folks have planted strawberries in detached rain gutters that are set on supports above ground level so that fruit hangs beside the gutter. That effectively blocks soil critters from attacking fruit, but it’s still exposed to predation by birds, squirrels or raccoons. Pets sometimes will eat those berries too.

Wherever you choose to plant your strawberries, be sure to plant them where you’ll be able to easily harvest the fruit. June-bearing strawberries send out many runners bearing plants at tips that in turn “run.” They should be snipped off before they sap vigor of the plant going to fruit. People with ample space plant a row of berries about 18 inches apart, let runners go into path space, and later rely on the runner-plants (cut from the mother plants) for replacements. Most people only use a large-fruited strawberry plant for two or three years, and then discard since production begins to flag at that plant age.

Strawberries are sitting ducks (or fruits) for some destructive soil fungi, so it’s a good idea to move the strawberry bed whenever possible. That vulnerability causes many commercial growers to use toxic chemicals to fumigate their soil before replanting.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

Learn to grow edibles indoors

Indoor Kitchen Gardening in Winter: 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at Madeline George Garden Design Nursery, 10550 W. Hill Road Parkway, Boise. Workshop on growing all types of edible greens in your home through the winter. Free. RSVP to 995-2815 or info@madelinegeorge.com.

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