By Cyn Reed
Plant strawberries in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, which is generally in March or April. This allows the plants to become well established before the summer heat. The matted row planting system for growing strawberries is often the preferred method for home gardens, requiring less labor to maintain than other systems and proving highly productive. An initial planting of 100 plants can provide sufficient fresh fruit for a family of four, as well as a surplus for canning and freezing.
Choose a site for the strawberries that receives direct, full sunlight. Do not plant them in low-lying areas where cold air tends to accumulate. Select an area where the soil is well drained.
Select a variety of strawberry that does well in the area in which you live. “Earlington” and “Cornwallis,” for instance, do well in northern New England. Contact your local cooperative extension office and ask for suggestions.
Test the soil pH of the site where you intend to plant the strawberries. Strawberries do best in a soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.2. Add ground limestone to increase the pH of acid soils.
Remove all weeds from the area and till the soil. Add organic matter, such as manure or compost. Apply 2 to 3 cubic yards of either per 100 square feet.
Place the plants 15 inches apart in a row, with 3 to 4 feet between rows. Dig a hole for each plant large enough to accommodate the roots of the plant without bending them. Spread the root mass and set the plant so that the midpoint of the crown is level with the surface of the soil. Cover the roots with soil and tamp firmly.
Water the plants to settle the soil. Keep newly planted strawberries well watered. Never allow the soil to become dry or soggy. Water to supplement rain. Strawberries need 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week.
Pinch all flowers off the plants during the first year of planting. This encourages runner growth to fill out the bed for a better yield the following year. Allow runner plants to fill the rows as they grow to form a matted row 2 feet wide, or less.
Avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants have recently grown, as it may increase the risk of fugal disease, such as verticillium wilt.