Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberries! Where would we be without ravishingly red strawberries, especially while looking at a cold leaden winter sky? Their little, plump, juicy bodies cry out saying ‘shove as many in your mouth as you can’. Personally I don’t think summer has started until you’ve eaten your first strawberry. They magically teleport us to mental images of strawberry cheesecake with a clink-clink of daiquiri glasses.
You can almost smell the dry straw and summer breeze just by planting strawberry plants. So let’s get on with it. If planting by seed or you just want to start early then reserve some shelf space in your home before making use of the greenhouse during late winter.
Your first decision is which type of strawberries to actually plant. There are three main ones to choose from as thus;
Junebearer. This is the most common type of strawberry which is Britain signals spring is finally done and we can now expect to work on our tans (until the rain that is!). Junebearers are day-length sensitive so they produce buds in the autumn followed by flowers and fruits the next spring. Once we’ve had our glut from June until August the plants will throw out runners until the end of autumn.
Everbearer. These varieties will spend the long summer days forming buds and more in the shorter days of autumn. The summer buds flower and fruit in the autumn and the autumn-formed buds will bear fruit the following spring.
Day-Neutral. These lesser known strawberries are insensitive to day-length, so form buds, fruits and runners continuously if the weather stays fair. Their downside is a smaller production output than the Junebearers.
Either way you choose, you are likely to get a reduced output in your first harvest but can look for a decent crop the following year, perhaps in spring. There are some varieties that have been bred to address the lack of action such as Elvira, but generally it is better to pick off blossoms to discourage first year fruiting so the plant develops its energy reserves in the root system making it more productive in year 2.
As you are now aware of the requirement of time investment for strawberries, you will not be surprised to hear that germination tends to be a long drawn out love affair too. Start them off in early spring or indoors in trays. Seeds can be pre-frozen which will actually help them to germinate.
Strawberry seedlings appreciate a bit of acidity in their potting mix and if you can find some ericaceous soil you can always add a handful. Sprinkle the seeds on your chosen soil and cover with a thin layer of sieved compost. Moisten straight away and allow to germinate on a window sill. This could take a month so keep vigilant with the soil moistening.
You can look to transplant once a third leaf has arrived. Plant them into small pots with a good compost and, if the weather is less cold they can go outside to harden off. If you have chosen to use containers then remember that strawberries grow best in small communities. A large container is fine or smaller pots placed together will do nicely.
The first flowers should be pinched off. This will stop fruit from being produced and the plant’s energy will be saved for next year. This will significantly increase the crop for next year.
Strawberries are sprawling by nature. You will notice runners even come from as early as seedlings. The runners will try to establish daughter plants which you can nip off to encourage bigger growth. Runners can always be allowed to bed into near pots at a later date for more plants.
Allow plenty of space between plants so you don’t get in a mess with the runners. Don’t forget strawberries don’t make deep roots early on. When established they may grow to 8” which can be trimmed back if necessary.
Strawberries like a well-drained soil and go well in a raised bed. They enjoy from 6-10 hours of direct sunlight per day so choose your bed wisely.
The ideal acidity should be between 5.5 and 7, and they quite like a loam soil, preferably with a couple of months worked in.
Practice crop rotation techniques for the best chance of success. They tend not to like soil used for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers or other strawberries. You should establish some new plants each year to help keep a better quality of berry and never scrimp on your straw or mulch for winter. Old straw mulch should be replaced with fresh for summer growing season.