How to Grow Great Strawberries

Knowing how to grow strawberries can be challenging in our part of the world – sometimes they just don’t bear any fruit, other times they just keep napping after their winter sleep and don’t come back at all.  Let’s take a look at the best way to grow strawberries.

  • Location: Choosing the right site makes life better for strawberries, it keeps them strong and healthy.  A robust plant is always less susceptible to pests and diseases.
    • Full sun is the best for strawberries – at least 6 hours a day is needed, but the more sun the better, with 10 hours of sunshine being optimum. Look for a site away from buildings or fences that will cast shade.
    • Find a site away from trees and shrubs.  Trees and shrubs will compete for water.   When trying to calculate a good distance, use this rule of thumb – tree and shrub roots extend as far horizontally as they are tall.
    • Strawberries like good quality, rich, well drained soil. To augment soil quality, compost could be added to give it a higher organic content.
    • The optimal PH range for strawberry growing soil is 6-7.
    • Look for an area that has good air circulation to keep any chance of fungal diseases away.
    • Avoid planting near tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, raspberries – they tend to share common diseases.

 

  • Spacing: There are a couple of options for strawberry spacing.
    • Strawberries can be used as a ground cover – these will require regular weeding
      OR
    • They can be planted in rows 3-4 feet apart, and space the individual plants 11-18” apart.

 

  • How to Plant Strawberries
    • As early as the ground is thawed and warm, work the soil well to a depth of 8 or 10”, strawberry roots grow to about 6”.
    • Planting on a cooler, cloudy day is best for transplanting. A cool day is less stressful for establishing any plant because metabolic needs for water and nutrients are lower.
    • Plant the strawberry right at the crown.
      • The crown is where the roots and stems intersect.
      • Be careful not to cover the crown with soil.
    • Firm the soil around them – We like to make a ring around the new transplant. This ring extends out about 6” from the plant.  The reason for this is that water stays in the ring and seeps to the roots.
    • Remove flowers for 2-3 weeks after planting so the strawberry plant can establish roots and leaves without the extra strain of growing fruit.
    • Protect new transplants from frost by covering them up lightly with frost fabric, or even cotton sheets.

 

  • Watering
    • Water the equivalent of 1 inch per week, or one good watering a week, depending on weather.
    • Water early in the day so that the leaves can dry off during the day – this will prevent leaf diseases.
    • Fertilize young transplants after a couple of weeks with 10-30-10. These numbers represent fertilizer macronutrients. Whenever you fertilize, think UP, DOWN, & ALL AROUND.
      • Nitrogen is the 1st number; it provides nutrients for green leafy & stem growth UP above the ground.
      • The middle number is Phosphorous, which aids in blooming and root growth DOWN under the ground.
      • The 3rd number; Potassium is good for fruit flavour and ALL AROUND plant health.
      • These combinations, with a higher middle number will be good for root establishment. Apply this fertilizer a few weeks after transplanting so the microscopic root hairs have some time to grow before they are fertilized.  Take caution in mixing fertilizer correctly because fertilizer that is too strong can burn root hairs.
      • After a month, switch to a more balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 or 10-10-10

 

  • Maintenance
    • Keep the runners under control –
      • direct them to where you’d like the strawberries grow
      • or cut them off with clean scissors or pruning snips
    • Hand weed regularly – strawberries are “poor competitors” and can be easily choked out
    • Water regularly – even after they bear fruit
    • Thin out plants to 6-8 inches apart
    • Remove old woody plants – they will no longer be very productive
    • Compost to increase soil fertility
    • Crop rotation – strawberries produce well for 3 or 4 years, and then they need to be rotated out. This can be done by the renovation method:
      • mow down or weed whack to about 1” above the crown
      • rake the leaves off, if the leaves are clean and not diseased, then work them into the soil
      • take out old woody plants
      • fertilize
      • thin to 6-8” apart
      • water as above

 

  • Winter Prep
    • Strawberries are at their limit of zone hardiness in zone 3, so covering them is recommended. Always check zone hardiness before purchasing strawberries.  Some good varieties are listed below.
    • Once the plants become dormant – give it 2 or 3 frosts and then mulch them with 4-6” of mulch.
    • Weed free straw is most often recommended because strawberry crowns can die at -10C

 

  • Spring Recovery
    • Rake off mulch in spring when the snow is completely melted and threat of frost is over – the University of Minnesota Extension recommends this to be around the time lilac buds begin to open – and use the mulch around the plants
    • Fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer – wait to fertilize until the summer, the nitrogen could produce leaf disease fungi in young leaves if applied too early.
    • If you are growing strawberries in raised planter boxes– you will experience decreased winter survival – see our blog Raised Bed Gardening

 

  • Types / Classes of strawberries good for our Edmonton area:
    • Strawberries are divided into 3 broad classes: June Bearing, Ever Bearing, and Day Neutral.  In general, the fruit is ripe 4 weeks after the strawberry plant has bloomed.
    • June Bearing – bear one crop, usually in June with large berries and they have lots of runners
      • Varieties: Kent, Glooscap, Bounty, Haneoye, Cavendish
    • Ever Bearing – bear 2 and sometimes 3 crops, in early summer and in early fall, which can give the illusion that they are always bearing. This type does not have so many runners – great for limited space
      • Varieties: Berries Galore (Pink or white flowers), Delizz, Ruby Ann (red flowers), Ogallala, Fort Laramie
    • Day Neutral – produce fruit throughout the growing season, produce less runners – great for limited space
      • Varieties:  Tristar, Fern, Seascape, Albion

 

Growing strawberries successfully is possible in central Alberta.  We hope that this blog will help increase your success as a strawberry grower and that you will have any opportunities to put strawberries on your cereal, and make great strawberry pies.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via email or contact us directly on our phone at 780-467-3091.  Enjoy those juicy red berries!

 

Sources:
https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-strawberries-home-garden,
https://m.extension.illinois.edu/strawberries/growing.cfm
,
https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex720