By Brenda Priddy

Although Missouri is not the ideal growing zone for strawberries, it is possible to grow healthy plants if the correct procedures are followed. Ideal varieties for Missouri include: Sparkle, Surecrop, Honeoye, Earliglow and Allstar. Strawberry plants should not be allowed to fruit the first year to allow the plants to become established. This will yield better crops the following years.

Prepare the soil by ensuring that the soil has enough nutrients. Take the soil to a local MU Extension office to have them test the soil for nutrients. They will tell you what to add to your soil for best strawberry growth. Add 5 percent compost to the top 12 inches of soil where the strawberries will be planted.

Fertilize the entire plot of garden with a 5-10-5 fertilizer. Use 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet of soil. Mix the fertilizer in with the top 3 to 4 inches of soil. Water the soil to allow the fertilizer to sink in.

Plant the seedlings in late March to late April, depending on when the soil is soft enough. Dig a shovel full of soil. Squeeze the soil in your hand. If it breaks apart, then you can plant the strawberries. Place the strawberries into a hole you dig into the ground. Make sure to cover all roots with soil, but do not cover the stem. Water the plants immediately after planting.

Cultivate the plants every week. This includes breaking up the surrounding soil with a trowel or rake for aeration and removing all weeds. After the first six weeks you can reduce cultivation to about every other week.

Train runners to grow in rows. Decide which way you want the rows to grow, then move all plant tendrils that grow in a different direction back to the original row. This will establish rows of plants rather than bushes.

Install a rain gauge in an area that receives the same amount of water as the strawberry plants. Each week the plants should receive about 1 inch of water. If the plants are not receiving enough water, water them until they have received at least 1 inch of water.

Remove all blossoms from the plants the first year. You do not want the plants to grow strawberries this year. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of straw mulch in November or December to protect the plants through the winter.

Allow blossoms to grow the following years, continuing to fertilize and water in the same manner as the year before. Harvest berries daily when they become ripe (typically in the summer). The plants must be replaced around year four because they stop producing good fruit after this point.