Strawberry season is here, but it’s not too late to plant yours
Early next month, locally grown strawberries will begin to be available for purchase in Greater Columbus and if you’ve never tried an Ohio strawberry, you’re in for a treat. Like corn and tomatoes, freshly picked local strawberries have a taste that cannot be duplicated by large out-of-state commercial producers.
Strawberries are perennials that reward you with fruit year after year and it’s not too late to plant strawberries in Greater Columbus, so if the idea of picking plump red ripe strawberries from your own garden sounds attractive, consider planting plants this spring.
Perfect culture for a garden bed
Strawberries are well suited for planting in the vegetable garden because they produce fruit quickly and don’t require a lot of space. Depending on the variety grown and the age of planting, each strawberry plant can produce up to a liter of sumptuous berries. Twenty-five strawberry plants will usually produce enough berries for a family.
Strawberries are best managed in a garden bed of their own and can be grown in a raised bed or directly into the ground. Strawberry plants produce an abundance of runners which, once rooted, will give rise to additional plants. So, growing strawberries in their own bed will help keep them “in their alley” and prevent them from spreading to other areas of the garden.
Another reason not to plant strawberries among vegetable crops is that certain soil-borne diseases such as verticillium wilt that affect vegetable crops can be deadly for strawberry plantations. For this reason, never plant strawberries near members of the nightshade family such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplants, or in a location where these crops have been grown in recent years.
Types of Strawberry Plants
There are three different types of strawberry plants: Bearing in June, rising and indifferent. June plants are the most widely grown type of strawberry in Ohio and will begin producing a full crop of berries the year after planting, for about four seasons.
June strawberries typically ripen from late May through June in central Ohio, depending on the variety grown. Most June varieties produce high yields of berries with exceptional flavor and quality, making them popular among home gardeners.
Everbearing types of strawberries can produce one crop of berries the year they are planted and produce two smaller crops each season: one in late spring and another in early fall.
Day-blind strawberry plants can produce fruit in the first year of establishment and produce berries continuously throughout the summer and early fall. Day-blind plants will produce fruit for only two seasons and tend to produce smaller sized berries.
Planting site requirements
For maximum yield and best quality berries, strawberry plants need full sun, so avoid planting strawberries in a bed right next to the house or in other areas that receive shade. Strawberries prefer well-drained soil with a pH of around 5.8 to 6.5. Many native Greater Columbus soils have pH levels well above 6.5 and the pH needs to be corrected using sulfur for maximum plant growth and berry production.
Strawberries have fairly small root systems and will respond to small amounts of fertilizer applied several times during the growing season, although the plants produce most of their growth in the spring and fall. Strawberry plants grow well in soils rich in organic matter. consider adding compost or aged manures on soils low in organic matter when planting strawberries. Proper spacing for most strawberry varieties is around 12 inches.
Proper care is essential
Like most plants, strawberries grow best when weed competition is minimized. weed removal maintaining a weed-free planting is essential, especially during the year of establishment.
Adequate watering is essential, as strawberry plants are sensitive to excess soil moisture. Plants need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week from June through August, so plan to provide irrigation when rainfall doesn’t provide that amount each week.
Strawberry mulch is needed in winter to provide protection and reduce soil heaving. Plan to apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of weed-free straw on top of the plants after they have been subjected to several frosts in the 30 degree or 20 degree range. In greater Columbus, this usually happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Straw mulch should be removed from the tops of strawberry plants in early spring and can then be placed on the ground between plants to suppress weeds and as a source of organic matter for the soil.
When properly cared for, strawberries will produce a bountiful harvest for four years or more, so the time and effort you put into planting new strawberries will pay delicious dividends in the summers to come.
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at The Ohio State University and an educator at OSU Extension.