By Lori Lapierre

Strawberries remain a popular fruit for home gardeners to grow, and can be easy to grow after the work involved in starting a patch. While many varieties can now be grown in pots, the Michigan gardener with some space can easily start a proliferate strawberry patch; 25 plants can produce as many pounds of fruit. A sunny spot, well-drained soil and a watch on how much water the plants receive should allow for a bountiful harvest of the luscious fruit.

Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for the strawberry patch. Prepare the soil by applying 2 to 3 lbs. of fertilizer; a higher phosphorous count is required, such as a 5-10-5 ratio. Work the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of topsoil with a hoe or hand spade. You may prepare the soil may as soon as the ground can be worked up; however, do not place strawberries in the ground until after the last threat of frost — in Michigan, this usually falls in early May, or around Mother’s Day.

Plant strawberries at least 15 inches apart, with the crown — the fleshy part where leaves develop — level with the soil. Place soil around the roots and gently pat into place, making sure the roots are completely covered to avoid the roots drying out. Rows should be at least 36 inches apart for optimal growing space.

Water the strawberry patch thoroughly, but without soaking it. The soil around the plants should stay moist but not swampy. Allow the patch to slightly dry out between waterings to make sure the roots do not stand in any water. Keep the soil moistened during the warmer months.

Purchase strawberry plants right before planting to avoid the roots drying out. Or, keep the plants in a cool, shady area with dampened packing material, such as newspaper, around the roots until planting can be done. You will need to choose between one of three varieties; a June-bearer, also known as a short day, which has a three- to four-week production season; an Everbearer, which bears in the spring and fall; and a day-neutral, which should bear small amounts of strawberries all during the warmer months.

Two weeks after planting strawberries, add 2 to 3 lbs of a 12-12-12 fertilizer around the strawberry plants; avoid touching the plant itself with the fertilizer.

If water tends to stand in the yard where you plan to plant the strawberries, you need to create a raised bed; strawberries require a well-drained patch.