Ann Wright: Strawberries in the garden – beauties for this different spring
There is something to be said about working in the garden as a distraction and to direct our thoughts to renewed growth, flowers blooming and the fragrance of spring. Take a deep breath and enjoy the solace of the calming garden air. Once the rain tapers off a bit, it seems like a good time to be out in the garden tending new growth on fruit trees, planning new vegetable beds, or perhaps planting some strawberries in a raised bed or in a container on the porch.
Strawberries (Fragaria spp.) are classified in the rose family and cultivars are further identified according to fruit production. Day-neutral (sometimes called everbearing) strawberries produce nearly continuously from May until the first hard frost. These plants produce fewer runners than the short-day varieties. (Day-neutral plants are those that flower regardless of the amount of daylight received.) Day-neutral strawberries also have firmer, larger fruit than June-bearers. Ideal for borders, hanging planters and above-ground containers, everbearing and day-neutral varieties will continue to fruit as long as the weather holds, until the first frost in the fall.
June-bearing, or short-day strawberries produce one crop per year, usually during May. These strawberry plants also produce many runners (daughter plants) and need some careful management to avoid sprawling. These strawberries can be planted in the fall for spring fruit, or as bare-root in January, for production the next year.
Requiring soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5, the acid soil of our local foothill communities offers one of the conditions required to grow strawberries. In addition, strawberries need good drainage for optimal plant growth as well as 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to produce berries. Building the soil into berms or furrows will help promote drainage. If soil is heavy, mix in well-aged compost in amounts of at least 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of soil. Work the compost thoroughly into the top 18 inches of the soil.
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Examples of day-neutral and everbearing varieties that do well in our area and can be planted now, include:
Albion: Produces large fruit and is resistant to verticillium wilt and phytophthora crown rot; some resistance to anthracnose crown rot.
Fern: Berries are medium-sized, excellent quality; strongly day-neutral; excellent potential for home gardens as they produce all season long (July-November); plant in the spring as soon as the ground is workable.
Monterey: Like Albion but more vigorous, slightly more prone to mildew but have out-standing flavor with distinct, sweet after-taste.
Seascape: Produced by the University of California, many think this has the best flavor of any day-neutral varieties, with large, firm fruit.
Examples of June-bearers, or short-day varieties that can be planted in the fall include:
Camarosa: An early, short-day variety that produces large to very large, firm deep red fruit, with great productivity and excellent flavor.
Chandler: Originating in California, large producer with exceptional flavor.
Douglas: Early producer, vary large fruit, good flavor.
Sequoia: A hybrid variety developed for costal California but widely adapted to most any region. These yield large, sweet, juicy berries with excellent flavor; resistant to verticillium wilt.
To plant, open a hole 6 to 7 inches deep with a trowel and place one teaspoonful of slow-release fertilizer (such as ammonium phosphate), fish meal or a mixture of bone meal and blood meal about 1 inch beneath each plant, followed by an inch of soil to prevent root burn. Then spread the roots out in the hole and firm the soil around the plant. Be careful to keep the crown of the plant at the soil surface. If planting in 2-row beds, space the plants about 12 inches apart in each row with 12 inches between the rows, staggering the plants to allow for maximal growing room. About 6 weeks into berry production, the plants may need another dose of fertilizer.
Wherever strawberries are planted, mulch is essential to keep fruit from touching the soil, thereby reducing problems with fruit decay and attack from pests. Straw from rice or wheat, as well as pine needles, are available in our area and are an effective way of keeping the weed population down and retaining moisture. Plastic mulch may also be used, with perforations made to allow water to reach the plants or having a drip line inserted into the mound.
As for pruning strawberries, the purpose is twofold: to limit the formation of daughter plants and to remove old leaves that may harbor disease. Removing most daughter plants will encourage the development of multiple-crowned plants and thereby increase your berry production. Allow a few daughter plants to form if you want to replace any mother plants that die. Otherwise, remove all other runners as they form.
Strawberries – as lovely as they are fragrant! This nutritious little fruit can be grown with a moderate amount of work, and ounce per ounce, they have more Vitamin C than citrus. They also contain folate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and dietary fiber.
Please note that all Nevada County Master Gardener activities, public workshops and events have been cancelled or suspended until at least April 6. The office and Hotline will not be staffed with volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays as per usual. Check the website for updates as we go forward (http://ncmg.ucanr.org/ ).
Stay well, and enjoy your gardens!
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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