By Michele M Howard

Strawberries are an easy fruit to grow and have become popular among home gardeners because they can be grown in a small space and require little maintenance. There are basically three strawberry varieties, Junebearers, Everbearers and Dayneutrals. Some produce fruit only once per season while others produce fruit several times during a season. Whichever strawberry variety you choose to grow, the selection in site, planting parameters and plant care are similar for yearly planting.

Pick a weed-free location in your garden where the soil drains well and there is an abundance of sun. Till the soil in early spring. Typically, soil can be worked in March or April. Mix organic compost into the top 6 inches of the soil with a shovel.

Mound the soil into rows. Space the rows 3 to 4 feet apart. This allows room for runners and daughter plants, or off-shoots, to take root. As the daughter plants grow, the rows start to become matted. Do not allow the matted rows to become wider than 2 feet. Leave room to maneuver between the rows for plant maintenance and harvesting.

Remove the plants from the nursery containers and pinch off the older leaves. Set the plants in a bucket of water. The water should just cover the roots. Allow them to set, undisturbed, for an hour.

Plant the strawberry plants 18 to 30 inches apart within each row. It is best to do this on an overcast day and preferably in the late afternoon. Set the plants into the soil to where the soil just covers the roots.

Make a solution of starter fertilizer and water in a bucket following the product’s instructions. Apply 1 to 2 cups of the mixture to each plant.

Water the plants with 1 inch of water each week. After the water soaks into the soil, the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil should be wet.

Weed regularly for the first couple of weeks and then apply straw mulch around the plants and between the rows for weed control and to help retain moisture.

Check the plants regularly for the first couple of months. Pinch off any blossoms as soon as you see them. This promotes early growth and encourages new runners.

Inspect the plants on a regular basis and remove any over-ripe or rotten strawberries. Harvest the strawberries two or three times each week and only when they are fully red. This best time is when the fruit is cool, during the morning hours. Leave the crown and a 1/4 to 1/2 inch stem attached.