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Setting out strawberries

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By Jeneen Wiche

When we first moved out to the farm in 1979 the first fruit that my parents planted were strawberries and peaches; undoubtedly there was some influence from Daddys good friend Joe Huber. Southern Indiana must have some strawberry influence because Ill be planting strawberries again this year thanks to another Floyds Knob friend, Bruce Eveslage, who gave me some Italian alpine strawberry plants to add to my potager garden. I feel a little rusty on the strawberry cultivation thing so I have refreshed my memory about growing this small, versatile fruit.

Spring planting of strawberries is recommended for Kentuckiana, as early as March, in fact, if you can get them. The key to a good crop is to plant them in the right spot and to choose the right varietyand this is where it can be a little confusing.

There are several different categories of strawberries including June-bearing, ever-bearing and day-neutral. June-bearing varieties have traditionally been the best tasting and these are the ones that must be pinched in the first year, producing a late spring crop the following year. University of Kentucky recommends the June-bearing varieties of Earliglow, Red Chief (still the two varieties that dominate), Delmarvel, Guardian, Jewel, Darrow and All Star.

Ever-bearing varieties, like Fort Laramie and Ozark Beauty, produce minimally in the spring and fall; and the day-neutral, which are true ever-bearing types, will produce summer through fall. The day neutral varieties respond to ambient air temperature rather then day-length, like the other varieties. Recommended day-neutral strawberries include Tristar and Tribute.

For June-bearing and ever-bearing varieties it is best to pinch the blossoms the first season out in order to encourage good root and runner development; this will ensure a good, strong second-year crop. For day-neutral varieties you can get away with pinching the blossoms through mid-July and allowing fruit set for a crop of berries in late summer.

When you are ready to plant prepare a bed in full sun (at least 6 hours a day) by adding copious amounts of composted manure to the site in order to improve drainage and soil fertility. At planting time set the mother plants about a foot a part (2 feet is better to allow room for runners to develop later), mound a little soil and spread the roots out like a fan and leave the crown of the plant just at the soil surface in your mound. Prune away any runners at planting time; you will encourage these after the plants become established.

For established June-bearing varieties you should renovate the patch after harvest each year: clean up old foliage and remove old plants reserving the most vigorous year-old plants for the following season. Research suggests that putting about a half inch of soil over the mother plants help invigorate the plant resulting in new runner production. Cultivate the bed and keep it weed-free because competition with weeds can reduce the following seasons harvest. Annual renovation will help maintain higher yields from year to year.

Day-neutral and ever-bearing varieties do not send out runners quite like the June-bearing so the mother plant has more energy to produce more fruit. It is a good idea, however, to pinch off the early blooms for better fruit set during the summer and fall.

Take good care of your strawberry plants in late August when plants set their buds for next years fruit production. If it is dry do some irrigation, strawberries are shallow-rooted so irrigate when needed. Use composted manure for some extra nitrogen, weed the bed and mulch.

When fall rolls around be ready to add some extra mulching material after we have had several hard freezes. Strawberries need some winter protection so the shallow crowns do not heave out of the ground.