Gardening Tips: Growing Strawberries at Home

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            Strawberries are a perennial plant, meaning an individual strawberry plant will survive the winter and last for many years.  They should be planted in a spot in the garden that has good soil with proper drainage and a lot of sun.  This will ensure they grow healthy for many years.  When buying strawberry plants from a store, they will usually be sold in small pots or as bare root plants.  Bare root literally means that you will buy a bundle of plants (usually 25) that are nothing but roots, stems, and leaves.  There will be no soil packed around the roots, but they will likely be packed in moist straw or newspaper. 

            Many varieties of strawberry plants are available; the ones that are best for homeowners in North Carolina are ‘Allstar’ ‘Chandler’ ‘Earliglow’ and ‘Sweet Charlie’.  Plant the strawberry plants in a straight row, with each plant spaced 1 foot apart from the next.  Therefore if you have 25 plants, you will need 25 feet of row space.  If you plant the strawberry plants in a small square or patch, the plants in the center will not get enough sun to produce good fruit. 

            After the strawberry plants have been planted, they will begin to develop runners.  Runners are stems that grow sideways rather than upright, and as they spread, new plantlets, or daughter plants, will form from each main plant, or mother plant.  Over the course of the summer, your row of plants will fill in and become a thick row of strawberry leaves.  Try to keep the rows less than 18 inches wide, by placing the runners within that area as they grow.  During the first year after planting, you want to encourage as much vegetative growth as possible, therefore pick off any flowers that form.  This will mean that you will not have fruit during the first year, but will have a much great amount of berries in following years.

            For homeowners, it is usually sufficient to control weeds by pulling, hoeing, or lightly mulching with straw.  Herbicides should not be necessary.  Test your soil before planting, and follow fertilizer recommendations.  If no soil test was taken, apply 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 25 feet of row before planting. 

            By this time the following year you should be ready to harvest fresh berries in your own backyard.  After they have finished providing fruit for the year, you can thin the rows to 12-18 inches, and clip or mow off the leaves (being careful not to damage the crowns of the plant).  This will help them regenerate new growth for the following year.

            Local strawberry farmers are now selling fresh berries.  Typically the harvest season starts on about April 15th and may last into early June depending on the weather.  In Halifax County, both Dean and Joyce Kight at Oak Grove Orchard on highway 301 North of Halifax, and Kathy Barnhill at Plants and Things Nursery on highway 48 in Brinkleyville grow fantastic strawberries.  There are also several growers in the surrounding counties.   Beginning May 5th, you all also be able to purchase strawberries from many of these growers at the Roanoke Valley Farmers Market on highway 158 in Roanoke Rapids. 

Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension.  If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or matt_stevens@ncsu.edu.

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