Great time to plant strawberries

I have always enjoyed spending time in the spring at a you-pick strawberry farm. I love picking, tasting, and filling my bucket with these springtime delightful fruits. If you enjoy picking, or more importantly eating strawberries, then why not plant some in your own garden, or grow them in containers on your property?

They are easy to grow and October is a great time to buy plants and get them started in your landscape.

Strawberries are a perennial plant, meaning an individual strawberry plant will survive the winter and last for many years. They should be planted in a spot in the garden that has good soil that is well drained. Find a spot that receives full sun and mark this as your strawberry bed.

When buying strawberry plants from a store, they will usually be in either small pots or flats, or they will be sold as bare root plants. Bare root literally means that you will buy a bundle of plants, usually 25, that are nothing but roots, stems, and leaves. There will be no soil packed around the roots, but they will likely be packed in moist straw or newspaper.

Many varieties of strawberry plants are available: the ones that are best for homeowners in North Carolina are Allstar, Chandler, Earliglow and Sweet Charlie. Avoid purchasing other varieties of berries that are not suited for our hardiness zone.

Plant the strawberry plants in a straight row, with each plant spaced one foot apart from the next. Therefore, if you have 25 plants, you will need 25 feet of row space. If you plant the strawberry plants in a small square or patch, the plants in the center will not get enough sun to produce good fruit. After the strawberry plants have been planted, they will begin to develop runners. Runners are stems that grow sideways rather than upright, and as they spread, new plantlets, or daughter plants, will form from each main plant, or mother plant.

Over the course of the summer, your row of plants will fill in and become a thick row of strawberry leaves. Try to keep the rows less than 18 inches wide, by placing the runners within that area as they grow. During the first year after planting, you want to encourage as much vegetative growth as possible, therefore pick off any flowers that form. This will mean that you will not have fruit during the first year, but will have a much greater number of berries in the following years.

For homeowners, it is usually sufficient to control weeds by pulling, hoeing, or lightly mulching with straw. Herbicides should not be necessary, but some method of weed control is necessary to establish strong healthy plants. Test your soil before planting, and follow fertilizer recommendations. If no soil test was taken, apply one pound of 10-10-10 per 25 feet of row before planting or one teaspoon per plant.

In early spring, it may be necessary to protect the flowers and young fruit from frost and temperatures below 31 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be accomplished by covering the rows with a row cover that weighs one to one and a half ounces per yard. If you decide to use plastic, make sure the plastic does not touch the strawberry plants and burn the foliage.

For more information on growing strawberries in the home garden, contact the Extension Volunteer Master Gardener Clinic at 910-592-7161.