By Melissa Bone

Strawberries are attractive, delicious, nutritious and fairly easy to grow. There are over 600 varieties to choose from. Strawberries are one of the first harvests of the gardening season and the everbearing plants will even produce another harvest in the fall. Strawberries picked right off the plant taste so much better than their supermarket counterparts–they make a great plant for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

Strawberries have been a favorite fruit for centuries. The word “strawberry” comes from the word “streoberie”, and Anglo-Saxon word used until the year 1538. Strawberries have been used as a symbol for love, purity, passion and perfection. In medieval times, stonemasons would cut designs into religious structures to symbolize perfection.

Growing strawberries has a host of benefits. They can be grown just about anywhere. They can be grown in a sprawling garden or in a pot on a small apartment patio. In addition to being fairly easy to grow, strawberries are good for health too. They are high in phytonutrients, vitamin C, as well as other vitamins. Strawberries have powerful antioxidant properties and have been linked to protecting against cancer and heart disease.

Strawberry plants need at least six hours of sunlight to grow properly. When choosing a site for your strawberries, make sure there is plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. Strawberries grow best in soils with a pH of 5.3-6.5, but can also tolerate soils between 5.0 and 7.0. Strawberry plants can be grown in pots, raised beds, matted rows, spaced rows or in hills. Make sure to buy disease resistant plants, and don’t plant them in soil where tomatoes, potatoes or peppers have grown in the past three years.

There are basically three types of strawberry plants. June bearing strawberries are the most popular. They produce large strawberries and June bearing plants bear fruit all at once between a two-and-three week time period in the spring. Everbearing plants do not produce fruit all season as the name suggests. They produce a crop in the spring and another in the fall. Day-neutral strawberries are the third type of plant. They produce well during the cooler weather. When the summer heat comes, the day-neutral plants stop flowering and bearing fruit. If the weather stays on the cool side, or the plants are protected from the heat, day-neutral strawberries can bear fruit from spring until fall.

Early spring is the best time to plant strawberries. Cover the roots with soil, leaving the crown of the plant at the soils surface. During the first season, remove all blossoms from June bearing plants. This will make your strawberry harvests larger and the plants will send out more runners in subsequent seasons. Remove the blossoms from everbearing and day-neutral plants for the first six weeks after planting. After six weeks, the fruit can be allowed to develop.

Prepare soil with a basic fertilizer mix before planting strawberries. A second application of fertilizer can be applied in the second season after renovation (taking steps to ensure high yielding plants for the following year). Mulch plants with a layer of stray or pine needles to prepare for the winter season. Remove mulch in early spring, but be sure to cover plants if a spring frost is predicted. You can use old blankets to protect your plants.