By Brenton Shields

The iconic strawberry plant thrives in milder climates, but it can grow all over the country, from Alaska to Maryland and Florida. These sweet red fruits grow low to the ground and can complete any garden. Planting, growing and caring for strawberries is not as simple as just planting them and forgetting about them; it takes quite a bit of care and preferably some basic gardening experience. Begin planting your strawberry plants in the early fall so that they’re ready to harvest by spring.

Select a planting site with good drainage, preferably on a gentle slope that also gets full sunlight. The soil at this site should be rich. If the land is too flat, use raised plant beds or containers so that water can drain out through the bottom.

Remove all weeds and grasses from your planting site and till the area, creating rows of ridges, to a depth of around 12 inches. Mix in compost and fertilizer to fortify the soil’s richness.

Dig holes for each plant in the rows within your planting site. The holes should between 5 and 7 inches wide and deep enough to accommodate the strawberry plant’s roots. The holes will each contain a single plant; space the holes about 18 inches apart to give the plants plenty of room to grow.

Set each strawberry plant in its hole and fill it in with soil to bury the roots completely. The plant’s crown, or top section, should remain exposed on the surface.

Water the strawberry plants with about an inch of water every week. They’ll get the rest of their water from the ground.

Shear off any “runners” from the plants as they grow. Runners are long, thin leaves or vines that don’t produce any fruit, yet take up the plant’s energy. Trimming them allows the plant to allocate more energy toward fruit production.

Place mulch around the plants before winter arrives. This will help retain moisture and deter weeds and other plants from growing up around them.

Pick off the strawberries when they begin popping up in the spring. Refrigerate or eat the strawberries immediately, as they won’t last more than a few days once off the vine.

If you’re willing to wait another year for your strawberries, pick off all strawberry blossoms in the spring before they can develop into full-blown fruits and continue picking them off all summer. The blossoms can dramatically weaken the plant; if you let it grow for an extra year, the next year’s batch of strawberries will be much bigger and more plentiful.