By Suzie Faloon

Fresh, local strawberries are a sweet, succulent treat at the beginning of summer. The landowner must select an area that is large enough to plant hundreds to thousands of strawberry plants. The history of the soil use is important, as previous crops may have introduced plant-damaging viruses to the area.

Choose a proper site for the strawberry field. Avoid land that was dedicated to pasture land or sod production, as white grubs and perennial weeds may be prominent there. The soil requires adequate water and air drainage. The best soil is light or sandy with access to irrigation.

Contact your county extension office or the soil laboratory of your state university and request a soil sample box. The university will test the soil to determine the nutrients that the particular strawberry crop requires. Take at least 15 to 20 cores of soil with a soil auger or trowel and package it in the sample box for the lab. Deliver or mail the sample box to the lab. Add nutrients as recommended by the university lab or a member of your local county extension service. Ideally the soil should be tested at least one year before planting the commercial strawberry crop.

Add dolomitic lime to the soil according to the lab test result recommendation at least 10 days before setting the berry plants out if the soil has low pH. Strawberries need 5.3 to 6.5 pH or acidic soil.

Prepare the rows for planting the strawberries using the matted row, space matted row or ribbon row techniques. Use a hoe or garden spade to make V-shaped holes for each plant. Plant strawberry plants in rows that are 12 to 24 inches wide for the matted row technique. This gives plenty of space for the runners or vines of the plants to sprout and grow outward from the body of the plant. The runners will root into the soil and establish a new plant allowing production of three to four harvests for one planting project. Plant the new strawberries 18 to 24 inches apart in the matted row.

Set the plant roots into the hole and firm up the roots with soil by hand or foot. The plant root system should be covered up to the crown of the plant. This is the area between the root system and the greenery of the plant.

Study to familiarize yourself with the parts of the strawberry plant in order to give them the proper care and attention needed for a generous crop harvest. You must be able to identify the crown of the strawberry plant.

Do not plant strawberries in the soil where potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have been grown unless they are verticillium wilt resistant. A fumigation process can be undertaken to rid the soil of verticillium wilt fungus that the vegetables may have contaminated the soil with.