Sunday, May 10, 2015

Successful Strawberries by Rebecca Anderson

Photo courtesy PlantTalk Colorado
Fresh strawberries are a sure sign that summer has arrived. Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) do well along the Front Range, even at higher elevations, making them a crop that can be rewarding for home gardeners. When establishing a new strawberry bed, try to pick a site that has not had raspberries, cherries, tomatoes, potatoes or eggplants growing in the past 5 years. These plants carry diseases that can infect and decrease the productivity of the strawberries. Select a site that gets at least 8 hours of sun during the summer. A soil test prior to planting is ideal so the soil can be amended according to the pants' needs, but if not possible, work one to two inches of compost into the bed one month before planting. 

There are many strawberries varieties to choose from. They all fall in one of three categories: June bearing, ever bearing and day neutral. June bearers produce the earliest fruit that is the largest and some say the sweetest.  However, they bloom the earliest and are prone to blossom damage from our late frosts. Ever bearers are considered the hardiest for the Front Range. They produce a spring crop and a fall crop and a few berries in between main crops during the summer months. The day neutral varieties produce berries for 6 week intervals 3 times during the summer. For gardeners who are going to pick one variety, ever bearers are recommended. Varieties that do well here are Ogallala and Fort Laramie. Some gardeners like to plant a few of each type to hedge against any failures of a specific variety. June bearing strawberries recommended for this area include Guardian and Honeoye. Tristar and Tribute are recommended varieties of day neutral strawberries. 

Planting techniques differ according to the type of strawberry. June bearers should be planted 2 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart and then be allowed to produce runners to fill in the space between plants. Ever bearers and day neutral strawberries should be planted one per foot in blocks of 3 rows that are spaced one foot apart. Runners should be removed from these varieties. For all varieties, the first set of blossoms should be picked to prevent strawberry formation. This will lead to development of a stronger plant that will produce more berries long-term. Long-term is relative, though. The strawberry bed should be moved to a new location and replanted with new plants every 3 years. This minimizes problems with disease and pests. 

If you'd like more details about growing strawberries in Colorado check out the CSU Extension Fact Sheet Strawberries for the Home Garden and PlantTalk's article on Strawberries. You'll be enjoying your own homegrown strawberries for years to come!