Friday, March 30, 2007

How to Grow Great Strawberries

Growing Great Strawberries
By Michael Russell

You can choose from three different types of strawberries, depending on when you want fruit. Consult your local extension office or nurseries for the best varieties for your area. June-bearing varieties produce one large crop of berries in late spring to early summer. Everbearing varieties produce two smaller crops - one in the early summer and another in early fall. Day-neutral berries, the newest type, con produce fruit continuously throughout the growing season.
Plant dormant, bare-root strawberry plants 18 to 24 inches apart in 3- to 6-inch high 3- to 4-foot wide raised beds. Set the plants so that soil covers the roots, but the crown remains above the soil. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Pinch off all flowers until mid-summer for the first season to encourage strong root and top growth.
The plants that you set out are called the mother plants. They send out runners that take root and develop new daughter plants in mid to late summer. Space the daughter plants evenly around the mothers to give each plenty of space to grow. Daughter plants flower and fruit the year after they grow. In the second summer you can remove the original mother plant to make room for new daughter plants. Another method is to rotary till the sides of the bed in mid-summer of he second or third year, leaving plants only in the 18- to 24-inch wide center strip. Train new daughter plants into the tilled soil. Plan to replace your strawberry planting every 3 to 5 years. Cover the planting with straw mulch after the ground freezes in cold-weather climates and remove as the weather warms in spring.
One of the most serious insect pests that affect strawberries is the tarnished plant bug, which can severely damage the developing fruit. These insects spend the winter in plant debris and live on weeds in and around your yard. Covering the strawberry plants in the fall with a floating row cover can offer some, but not complete protection from the bugs in the following spring and early summer. Early ripening varieties often suffer less damage than late-season berries.
The strawberry clipper or bud weevil is another significant pest in some areas. This insect flies into the planting from neighborhood woodlots and hedgerows about the time that the flower buds swell. Adults destroy the developing buds by laying eggs in them. Many other insects, slugs, mites and nematodes attack strawberry fruits and plants, reducing vigor and production and introducing disease. Birds and ground squirrels will also take their share.
Strawberries are also subject to many fungal, bacterial and viral diseases. Fungal infections include leaf spot, leaf scorch, leaf blight, powdery mildew, red stele, Verticillium wilt, root rot and several berry rots. Avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, eggplants or potatoes previously grew to avoid wilt diseases. Buy only virus-free plants from a reputable nursery.
Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Gardening
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