|Garden Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa)|
Strawberries come in June-bearing and Ever-bearing varieties. June-bearing strawberries will produce fruit in June as their name indicates and are then done for the year. Ever-bearing strawberries on the other hand, start producing in June and will continue to produce a small crop for the rest of the growing season. Typically June-bearing varieties produce a larger harvest during their short season and are the preference of those who wish to freeze a few, but the ever-bearing will keep your table supplied all season long.
Strawberries can be planted in an in-ground bed, a raised bed, or in a container. Plant strawberries in the spring once the chance of frost has past, in a bed or container prepared with a soil rich in organic matter and nutrients. Most strawberries are purchase as started plants and can be found at garden centers or from mail order catalogs. Just be sure to select a variety that is appropriate to your hardiness zone. Plants should be spaced 15-24 inches apart in rows that are 12 inches apart to allow the plants to produce runners with daughter plants. (Do not forget to provide yourself with a 2-3 ft wide path if your bed is more than four feet wide.) Set each plant just deep enough so that the roots are all in the ground but the crown is not buried. Water plants well and remove all flowers until the end of July to allow the plants to get established. This will mean that June bearing plants will not produce fruit the first year.
Protect fruit from nature's thieves (birds, squirrels, etc) by covering them with netting as soon as plants start to turn pink. Be sure to secure the net well as the wild creatures know as well as you do that this plant has a tasty fruit! I have watched robins cruise the edge of bird netting looking for any gap in the defenses. Protect the plants from the winter cold by covering the plants with a thick mulch of straw in the late fall. Slowly remove the layer of mulch as temperatures rise in the spring but save the straw for mulching between the rows. This inter-space mulching will help keep dirt and soil microbes that may cause rotting off the fruit as well as help retain soil moisture for the plants.
For more about strawberries, see also my post on Tip Junkie last summer, or how we made our raised bed this spring. I hope you get a chance to enjoy a few garden fresh strawberries from your backyard this summer.
Happy Gardening! :)