By Carolyn Barton

Strawberry plants are popular in home gardens since they produce a maximum amount of fruit in a small amount of space. Strawberries are versatile, growing equally well outdoors in the ground or in sunny windows in a hanging basket. There are three basic types of strawberries, June-bearing, ever-bearing and day-neutral. Strawberries are best planted in early spring, as soon as the ground is able to be worked after the last frost.

Find a planting area that receives full sun and has soil that is loose and drains easily. Prepare the first 6 inches of soil for planting one week before you will be ready to plant. Work a 6-24-24 formula fertilizer into the soil, using 2 lb. of fertilizer per 100 feet of surface area.

Plant seedlings 1 to 2 feet apart in rows, keeping the rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Dig holes that are wide enough to hold the roots with 2 inches of space all around and just deep enough to allow the roots to be covered with soil. Do not bury any of the stem under the soil as this will cause the stem to rot. Pat the soil down on top of the roots to make it firm.

Add 1 inch of water to the soil beneath the strawberry plants weekly. When heavy rainfall is present, suspend watering. Check frequently for weeds and remove them promptly so that they do not rob the plant of nutrients.

Pinch off the first blooms that are produced by the plant, using your fingers. This will promote larger growth during the next year, when fruit is produced.

Place a 2-inch layer of mulch, such as straw, bark chips or hay around the plants when they stop growing for the year. This usually occurs in December. The mulch will protect the roots of the plants from frost and prevent weed growth. Avoid using leaves or grass clippings to mulch the plants.

Wait until strawberries are completely ripe to harvest them, as they will not ripen further once removed. Hold the strawberry in one hand and pinch the stem 1 1/2 inches above the cap of the berry. Put unwashed strawberries in a covered container and refrigerate. Wash them before eating, but not before storing.

Avoid planting strawberry plants near areas where potatoes, peppers, eggplant or tomatoes have been planted. Diseases left from those plants will destroy a strawberry plant.