By Cat McCabe

Strawberries can be grown in almost any home garden, almost anywhere, but the warm, early springs of Alabama are especially good for planting and growing. There are several strawberry cultivars, such as Everbearer, which fruits twice per year, Junebearers (once) and Dayneutral (several times). You can even stagger your planting times through February and March to have a constant summer supply of this luscious, easy-to-grow fruit. As with any gardening task, proper soil preparation is key.

Prepare a bed for strawberry plantings in your garden. Build up equal parts sand, peat and topsoil to a height of 6 to 8 inches to ensure proper drainage, since strawberry plants do not like “wet feet.”

Surround the bed with stones, bricks or railroad ties to contain the soil and keep the bed raised. Apply 10 parts water to 1 part fertilizer that contains phosphate and potash before planting.

Plant strawberry seedlings in rows at a ratio of five plants per square foot, with the rows three feet apart to achieve proper density. Dig a small hole with a spade for each plant, deep enough so that the fleshy part of the strawberry plant where the leaves sprout sits just at the soil line, and no deeper. Plant one square foot at time, and water to prevent transplant shock.

Continue watering throughout the summer, whenever the ground becomes dry. Pinch off blossoms as soon as they appear in the first year after planting, to promote vigor and more berries the following year.

Cultivate by hand with a spade, and cut the running roots that develop between rows to maintain a space of at least 12 inches between rows. Weed regularly, by hand, to prevent competition for nutrients in the soil.

Stagger plantings through February and March for continuing yields in Alabama summers.

Be sure to keep adequate distance between rows of strawberry plants. Overcrowding will reduce yield.