There’s no doubt Californians have a love affair with strawberries. The delicious berry is the state’s fifth most valuable crop, and California farmers are responsible for about 80 percent of all the strawberries grown in the nation.
The home gardener loves them, too, and because of our climate and the variety of berries available, we can enjoy pretty much a year-round harvest.
Here are some tips on fulfilling your strawberry dreams:
Berries like full sun and soil that drains well. They also need potassium, so add pot ash when planting in clay soil.
Don’t plant where you have grown tomatoes, eggplants or peppers as strawberries are susceptible to verticillium wilt, a fungus that can infect the soil and damage or kill the plant.
Strawberries have shallow roots and need to be watered frequently. Keep plants moist but not soggy.
Strawberries do best when refreshed every year. Dig up and discard the mother plant. Snip off and replant the healthiest runners that are putting out strong roots and, to ensure large harvests and superior taste, plant new plants every 3 to 4 years.
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Strawberries fall into three primary categories: Everbearing, day neutral and June bearing.
Everbearing requires long days of sunlight to set fruit and, although they don’t bear all year-round, they produce multiple crops in spring, summer and fall.
- Mara Des Bois, developed by a French breeding program, produces small, extremely fragrant, very flavorful fruit.
- Quinault produces up to 2 inch berries that are exceptionally sweet, great fresh or in preserves. It grows well in containers.
- White Carolina, or pineberry, is a unique white to pale pink berry that tastes like a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple. It produces medium-sized fruit from spring through fall and is heat tolerant and disease resistant.
Day Neutral berries do not depend on a set number of daylight hours in order to flower. They are a great choice if you want a small amount of fruit throughout the year.
- Alpine, sometimes thought of as wild strawberry, is a compact, clumping variety that can be grown in part sun. It has small, aromatic, rich tasting berries. Plants do not send out runners so it makes a great edging option.
- Albion produces large, firm very sweet berries. It is disease resistant but needs more water and nutrients than other varieties. It spreads out rapidly, so space accordingly.
- Seascape, produced by the University of California in 1992, is productive. Many think it has the best flavor that any of the day’s neutral varieties.
June bearing strawberries require short day lengths, as in the fall, in order to flower. They are the most widely grown berry and make up the bulk of what you find at the supermarket. They tend to be vigorous plants, putting out lots of long runners, so they require room to grow.
They are prolific producers of large fruit, but since the fruit comes on all at once you have to use it all pretty quickly. They are great for jams, jellies and pies.
Unlike the name implies, they don’t all produce in June.
- Chandler offers good color and flavor, and the fruit holds well on the vine. It is susceptible to anthracnose disease.
- Earliglow is known for its wonderful strawberry flavor. The fruit is sweet, firm and medium sized. It produces vigorous runners, so give it plenty of space.
Rebecca Jepsen is also a Santa Clara County Master Gardener.