strawberriesSpring Crop Strawberry plants grow vegetatively the first summer after planting and set their flower buds in the crown of the plant that falls. When the plants have finished resting over the winter months, they are ready to force flower buds along with a new crop of leaves to support the fruit. The fruit usually starts ripening in early June and lasts several weeks, depending on the variety. After the fruit has ripened, the plant goes semi-dormant until a new flush of leaves starts growth in mid-summer. This crop of leaves sets the buds in the crown again that fall and the whole cycle starts over. Spring crop strawberry plants should be fertilized at least twice a year. Once in early spring – i.e., March, and again after the last berries are picked in early mid-summer. The two fertilizations will help make a good berry crop in the spring and a good fruit bud set that fall. In colder climates it pays to wait until growth actually starts in the spring to fertilize, thus avoiding too early growth that is frost susceptible. There is less chance of frost damage to the fruit if one plants the later blooming varieties such as Benton, Rainier, and Shuksan. This must be balanced by one’s own local climate and the fact that earlier flowering varieties bring early fruit that is often worth a premium price on the market. Your local extension service can recommend the best varieties for a given area. Plants can be planted as close as 18 inches or 24 inches if one does not wish to thin the runners frequently.

Everbearing and day-neutral strawberry plants do not wait until fall to set flower buds in the crown. They start producing flowers soon after planting and continue to do so throughout the growing season. It is best to remove the first few flowers that show, to help strengthen the plant vegetatively. After that, expect ripe berries constantly the remainder of the summer and well into the fall. Keep the berries picked so the plants remain actively growing. A lot of overripe fruit will slow growth and cause disease. Plants can be irrigated and fertilized sparingly throughout the growing season. The original mother plant will over winter and produce a spring crop under normal conditions. If the daughter plants (runners) are thick and the mother plant is showing signs of less fruit production, simply remove the mother plant leaving the daughter plants to produce season after season. We know of no other fruit plant that produces a constant supply of fresh fruit over the entire growing season. In super cold climates like Alaska, everbearing strawberry plants can be grown as an annual for a real local treat. They are truly the most adaptable of the small fruits and everyone should be growing them.

Finally – what is day-neutral? Strawberry varieties vary in their sensitivity to day length. The spring crop varieties in the above article set those fall fruit buds in the crown because they are sensitive to the shortening days as summer goes to fall. Everbearing varieties can be long-day sensitive like the variety Quinault. Quinault does poorly south of the Oregon border because the days are not long – they tend towards 12 hours of night as we go south. Day-neutral varieties are not sensitive to day length at all. They tend to fruit well if the days are 12 hours long, as is the case at the Equator, or 20 hours long such as in Alaska. To further complicate the issue, strawberry plants are sensitive to chilling in regards to setting fruit buds, becoming dormant, etc. In California, varieties such as Sequoia can be grown in the nursery at high elevation where the summer nights are chilly, and before they go dormant, transplanted to the warm valleys of the interior and fruit can be picked in January or even earlier. Different strawberry varieties are more or less sensitive to all these different environmental factors and that is why so many varieties are grown across the country on a regional basis.

Bark & Garden Center