Originally Published In The Deseret News -- Wednesday, April 15, 1992

Proper Cultivation Yields Strawberry Fields Forever

By Larry A. Sagers

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to visit the strawberry capital of the world in Watsonville, Calif. Borrowing a phrase from an old Beatles song, it seemed that there were "strawberry fields forever." The fertile soils and almost ideal climate produce strawberry crops better than almost anywhere else on earth.

Strawberries, the most popular home garden plants, take little space and are relatively free of problems. Varieties are available that grow at most locations, including high mountain valleys. Locate the strawberry beds in an area that gets at least eight hours of sunlight. Plant them in soils that are free from hard-to-control perennial weeds, including bindweed and quack grass. Strawberries are not recommended on soil where sod has grown the past year because sod encourages grub populations to develop. Grubs severely damage the small root system of the strawberries. They prefer sandy/loam soils, high in organic matter. Amend problem soils with organic matter to increase the berry production.

Strawberries are classified as June bearing, everbearing or day neutral. Recommended June bearing (single crop) varieties for our area include Tioga, Olympus, Sequoia, Hood Shuksan, Guardian and Honeoye. Everbearing strawberries typically bear two crops, each with a small amount of fruit. The first crop is produced in June and a lighter crop is picked in late summer. Everbearers produce fewer and smaller berries over a period of time. Everbearing varieties include Quinault, Fort Laramie and Ozark Beauty. Day neutral strawberries produce well the first year they are planted. Varieties include Hecker Brighton and Tribute.

Certified, virus-free plants are preferred as they have been inspected for insects and diseases. Local nurseries have bare-root plants right now. They are less expensive than berries purchased in individual pots later in the season. Choose plants with healthy roots. Remove flower buds, runners or damaged leaves, and plant as soon as possible. Plants should be placed the same depth that they grew in the nursery. Shallow planting allows the roots to dry out and die, while deeper planting buries the crown and prevents growth.

June-bearing strawberries should have blossoms removed for the first year, while everbearing or day neutral strawberries should have the blossoms removed twice. This diverts the energy into producing a stronger plant. Berries require fertilizer after picking the fruit. Fertilizing prior to fruit production encourages soft and flavorless berries.

California growers use different production methods than most home gardeners. Berries are planted on raised beds covered with a plastic mulch. The plants are allowed to grow and fruit for one year and are removed. This system works well under California conditions and is very productive. One major advantage of plastic is that plants don't become too thick. Strawberry production declines when plants set all their runners or daughter plants. Each node on the above-ground stems (stolons) produces a new strawberry plant if allowed to grow. Each mother plant should produce one daughter plant, while the rest should be removed. If strawberries are not thinned, they form a nice groundcover, but become unproductive with little or no fruit.

Plastic mulches help control weeds but may increase other pest problems. Earwigs and slugs are serious pests, but can usually be controlled with appropriate baits. Strawberry root weevil is more difficult to control and good controls are not available. Foliar diseases are not serious in Utah, but soil diseases are a major cause for the decline of strawberry planting. Soil-born diseases are controlled by rotating beds and not growing strawberries in affected soils for at least two years.

Berries to be consumed or preserved immediately should be picked red ripe, leaving the cap on the plant. If fruit will not be used for a few days, it should be harvested while pink and caps should remain on the fruit. Do not leave rotting fruits on the vine as they attract insects and other pests and make their control more difficult. Strawberries are poor competitors, so keep weeds out. Use a mulch and remove the weeds while they are still small.

Strawberries on heavy, clay soil are prone to develop iron chlorosis. This is partially controlled by variety selection. Avoid overwatering and using animal manures on heavy soils, as both aggravate the problem. Raised beds encourage good drainage and help control chlorosis.

Strawberries are perennial and beds can remain productive for three years. After that, purchase new plants and establish them in a new location. Insects, diseases and other problems take their toll and reduce the production of the berries.

Properly planted and rotated, strawberries make a great addition to the home garden. They can be eaten fresh, preserved in jams and jelly, or frozen or canned for a treat later in the season. A well-tended, well-located strawberry bed yields prolific amounts of fruit to enjoy throughout the year.

© 1998 Deseret News Publishing Co.

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