By Ellen Douglas
While containers and garden borders are charming ways to grow strawberries, you won’t achieve high yields unless you establish a genuine strawberry patch or field. Four main strawberry types and several growing methods exist, but for high yields your best bet is to grow June strawberries in a matted-row system. Matted rows allow “mother” plants to produce runners, which create “daughter” plants, yet prevent the patch from becoming overgrown and unproductive. Whether you grow dozens or hundreds of plants, the basic planting methods are the same.
Remove weeds, grasses or other vegetation from your future strawberry patch or field. This is ideally accomplished the fall before spring planting, notes garden author Barbara Damrosch. If you haven’t planned that far ahead, hand-till, rototill or plow the area at least two weeks ahead of time.
Work aged manure, compost or a 10-10-10 blend of fertilizer into the bed at the rate recommended on the package or by your local extension service. You need about 1 lb. of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 100 square feet of strawberry patch, notes the University of Illinois Extension.
Establish row placement with stakes and string or garden lime. Rows should be 3 to 4 feet apart, with the plants themselves between 18 to 30 inches apart in the rows. The number of plants you need to purchase depends on the size of your growing area and the number of plants that fit in it at this spacing.
Remove a strawberry plant from its flat or bare-root bundle.
Dig a hole to a depth that just covers the plant’s crown, or root system. Make the hole wider at the top and narrower at the center.
Put enough soil into the hole to create a pyramid shape, or small hill, in the center of the hole.
Set the strawberry over this miniature pyramid, with its root system draping over the sides and its crown resting at soil level. Remove or add soil to the pyramid to achieve the right level.
Backfill with soil until the strawberry hole is completely filled in, and press the soil firmly around the base of the plant to remove air pockets.
Continue planting the remainder of the strawberry plants by working your way down each row and then planting the next row.
Establish an irrigation system or set up a hose that will reach your strawberry patch. If you are using an irrigation system, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which generally call for running a line along each row.
Water the strawberry patch thoroughly to a depth of 1 inch. Opt for a garden hose or irrigation system rather than a sprinkler system to avoid wetting the foliage.
Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch over the entire strawberry patch. Straw is the classic mulch, as the fruit’s name suggests. Salt hay also works well as mulch material for bedding plants.
Pinch off the flowers of the plants once they begin to blossom. This enables the plants to put energy into root production, leading to a larger crop the following year.
Remove vegetation from each side of the row during the growing season to keep the rows to a maximum of 2 feet wide. In other words, allow the plants to produce “daughters,” but don’t let those second plants form “granddaughters.”
The most cost-effective way to buy large quantities of strawberries is to order them bare-root in bundles of 25, 50 or 100. Plant the bundles as soon as possible, or put them in the refrigerator for a few days.
The ideal location for mass strawberry planting gets at least six hours of full sun each day and doesn’t sit in low-lying areas. Flat or gently sloping ground is ideal.
Water the plants weekly during times of low rainfall. Strawberries need about 1 inch of water each week. For large strawberry patches or fields, consider installing an irrigation system.
Remove foliage from the plants immediately after harvest time in the second and subsequent years. For mass plantings, a mower set to 1 or 1 1/2 inches is ideal.
Take frost advisories seriously in the spring. If you anticipate a cold snap, consider piling on extra mulch or frost blankets to protect the plants.