By Gae-Lynn Woods

Strawberries are one of summer’s eagerly awaited pleasures. Whether you’re growing strawberries in your garden or in containers, feeding them at the correct times and in the correct amounts will help ensure a flavorful, abundant crop.

According to the University of Illinois Extension, strawberries prefer well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter added. Help your strawberry plants become established by feeding the soil when you plant them and during their first year of growth and regularly thereafter.

Dig compost, peat moss and well-rotted manure 6 to 10 inches into the soil before planting strawberries in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked.

Add 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet before planting. Work it into the soil no more than 6 inches. This makes fertilizer available to the strawberry plant’s root system immediately upon planting.

Use potting soil with 1 to 2 inches of compost added and mixed into the soil when planting strawberries in containers and baskets.

Apply a second feeding of fertilizer about one month after planting, when strawberry plants are beginning to show signs of growth. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service recommends using one pound of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 50 square feet and ensuring that any fertilizer granules are gently swept from the plant’s leaves and buds to avoid burning.

Apply a third feeding of 12-12-12 fertilizer at the rate of 1 pound per 50 square feet in late August or early September to aid in bud formation for the following year’s strawberry crop.

Spray plants with a foliar fertilizer weekly during the growing season.

Perform a soil test immediately after the last berries have been picked to determine the soil’s need for potash and phosphorus. Add both to the soil in amounts recommended by the test. Apply nitrogen at the rate of 1/2 to 3/4 pound per 100 square feet.

Apply 4 to 6 pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 100 square feet if a soil test is not performed, as recommended by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

Mix compost and native soil in equal amounts and cover strawberry plants with 1/2-inch of mixture to feed new roots as they develop.

Spray plants with a foliar fertilizer weekly during the growing season.

Apply fertilizer after strawberries are harvested in the second season, using a 12-12-12 fertilizer at the rate of 1 pound per 50 square feet.

Plant strawberries in a sunny site with good drainage. If your soil is heavy and does not drain well, plant strawberries in a bed raised at least 6 inches high with heavy additions of organic matter. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service indicates that strawberries need at least six hours of sunlight each day during the growing season to flourish, along with an inch of water or rain each week.

Be careful not to over-fertilize strawberry plants. The University of Illinois Extension notes that over-fertilization can cause excessive growth of leaves at the expense of fruit and weaken the plant, making it susceptible to foliar diseases and winter damage.