Care and Cultivation of Strawberries
Please note that, as plants are dormant when we send them out, some of the older leaves surrounding the central crown may look a bit ‘tired’ or even dead. This is quite normal. These old leaves can be left on the plant until the new foliage starts to emerge in the spring, at which point any that are completely dead should be removed. Leaving these old leaves on the plant throughout the winter and early spring will help to protect the crown from severe frosts and excessive rainfall.
What to do first
After unpacking, inspect the roots and, if they look at all dry, stand the plants in a bucket of water for a few minutes to moisten the root system thoroughly. Plant as soon as possible but, if ground is not ready, temporarily ‘heel’ in the plants in a shady spot on a spare patch of ground. Space them out in a line and cover the roots with moist soil.
If there’s no ground available in a workable condition, they can be kept for a few days in a cool shed or garage, if the roots are wrapped in damp hessian or newspaper to protect them from drying out. Alternatively, pot them up, place them in a cold frame and plant them out when conditions are more suitable in spring.
Soil Preparation and Planting
Strawberry beds have a limited life and need to be replaced regularly with virus-free stock. As they should each time be replanted on a fresh site where they have not been grown for a number of years, they are best grown as a rotational crop with vegetables rather than being included in a more permanent fruit area. Choose a sheltered area of the garden in full sun and, if possible, avoid known frost pockets.
While strawberries will grow on most soils, they require a well-drained, moisture-retentive soil, rich in humus to thrive, so dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, like farmyard manure or garden compost.
Prepare the soil as long before planting as possible and be sure to remove all perennial weeds as you dig as it is almost impossible to remove them from an established bed. Just before planting, rake in a dressing of balanced fertiliser, such as growmore or blood, fish and bone to give the plants a boost this season and, if recently dug, firm the ground thoroughly.
Set plants 37-45cm (15-18in) apart, in rows 82-90cm (33-36in) apart. Plant with a trowel, ensuring the roots are well spread out in each planting hole. It is most important to set the crowns just level with the soil surface. After refilling with moist soil, firm in each plant with your boot.
If your plants are not growing strongly, particularly if they are spring planted, it is best to de-blossom them in their first season. This may seem hard in the short term but will enable plants to devote all their energies to building strong crowns for future years.
At the beginning of June, mulch fruiting rows with straw, tucking it around the plants and under the fruiting trusses. This keeps the fruits clean and reduces rotting. Do not put down straw earlier in the season as this will increase the chances of frost damage.
After strawing, cover rows with a net to prevent the ripening fruits being attacked by blackbirds or other birds. Support the net clear of the plants. If frost is forecast after plants have come into flower, protect them by covering with fleece, plastic or other suitable material.
Strawberries suffer more than most other fruit in times of drought. If the weather turns dry at any time after the fruits start to swell, water rows thoroughly about once a week until rainfall returns to normal.
Immediately after picking has finished, clip over the plants with a pair of shears to remove the leaves. This allows a crop of new leaves to grow to nourish developing flower buds that will produce the following year’s crop. Remove the straw and give the bed a thorough weeding at the same time. Compost or burn all the material removed.
Plants will start to produce runners from about mid-June onwards. If you wish to keep rows of single-spaced plants, cut off the runners as they develop. The alternative is to encourage the formation of matted rows, which give higher yields. To achieve matted rows, allow the first 7-10 runners from each parent plant to root in a band 20-25cm (8-10in) on either side of the row and only remove any that are surplus to this.
Keep rows well weeded at all times and, each year in February, top-dress plants with a high potash fertiliser to encourage flowering and fruiting. You can have extra-early strawberries if you cover an early variety with cloches or a polythene tunnel at the end of February.
Perpetual Fruiting Strawberries
Also known as everbearing types, these varieties start to flower at more or less the same time as other strawberries but continue to produce flowers and fruit until the weather becomes too cold in October. The fruiting period can be extended if plants are protected with cloches in the autumn.
As the main reason for growing these varieties is to obtain fruit in late summer and autumn, it is recommended that any flowers produced before the end of May are cut off to encourage maximum production of fruit from July onwards. Later flowers should all be left on, even in the first year.
Cultivation differs from that of standard varieties in that fewer runners are produced and, as these flower and fruit immediately, they should not be removed. Also, plants should not be defoliated in summer. Instead, old leaves should be removed and beds cleaned up in late winter.
The maximum period for which these varieties will crop well is two years, after which beds should be replanted. They are often grown in tubs or barrels and are ideal for this purpose