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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rejuvenating the strawberry patch

I have neglected the strip of strawberry plants along a retaining wall in my front yard long enough. I got the plants from a neighbor several years ago when he thinned his patch. His garden produces impressive quantities of beautiful berries. I gave what plants I didn't have room for to another neighbor. Her patch flourishes, too -- enough that her children sell the berries door-to-door. And yes, I buy them! (To fill my lack.) It's a cruelly ironic circle-of-life kind of thing.

What's the deal with my strawberry patch?

Do you even see the patch?

The plants are crowded and competing for space with grass, herbs and flowers that jumped their boundaries. The strawberries have become more of a ground cover than a strategic crop. A ground cover can be just fine, if that's what you want, but strawberries treated this way will not be very productive. Besides, who plants strawberries if not for the fruit?

My project, then, was to start fresh. The strawberries are to the left of the retaining stones. I dug up all of them in this main path. I kept a few between the stones.

I carefully set the plants into flats, watered them and moved them out of the bright sunshine and heat while I continued working. (Ha! We had a snowstorm since. Ah, you gotta love spring.) 

Then I spread composted manure and mixed that into the soil. 

My berries are the type that produce one crop in spring. The everbearing kind makes an early summer crop and another, often smaller, one in the fall.

These are guidelines for each type. When planting strawberries, keep the crown level with the surface. The crown is where the cluster of roots meet in one point. In this strawberry plant picture the sidewalk line represents the soil level. If roots are loose, (as they are here), spread them out as you plant. Dig a hole two inches deeper than the roots, make a mound in it and place the spread out roots on top. Cover the roots with dirt, taking care to keep the crown level with the surface. Too low it can rot, too high, the roots can dry out.

I clipped off any dead leaves and blossoms before transplanting. As the season goes on I will remove other blossoms. Yes, this will drive me crazy! It is so hard to delay a strawberry harvest. Yet this practice allows plants to pour energy into roots rather than fruit production. This will help the plants get stronger this season and produce even more berries next year. Argh! (Good thing I have my neighbor saleskids!)

I planted the strawberries about 15 inches apart, using the stones as a spacing guide. The ones in the triangles between the stones are the plants I left. These will be the plants I harvest this year. All my transplants align with the left side of the stones. Later in the season, when these plants make runners I will limit them to one per plant. I will guide the runners to the right side of the stones. This system will help me track the age of the plants. Typically plants thrive about three years.

Water regularly the first few weeks to keep ground evenly moist. Cultivate around the plants about once a week. Keep forming strawberries off the ground by putting straw around the plants (hey, I get it!) or making simple posts out of pieces of clothes hangers (like a shepherd's hook plant stake) to lift the berries. They are safer from snails that way. Avoid feeding the birds by installing garden netting or covering plants with cheesecloth you can find at the grocery store. 



Good information. Thanks for taking the time to compose this post.

Mike said...

I haven't ever had a lot of luck with strawberries. Thanks for the info Jennifer.