By Naomi Judd
Strawberries are summer all-stars of the fruit world. These tasty red berries can be eaten off the vine or used to make jam, pie, ice cream and shakes. Zone 8 spans across much of the southern Unites States and the United Kingdom. Hot summer days and cool nights are characteristic of this area where fruit grows relatively easily. Strawberries can be grown in containers, hanging planters or ground patches in this zone.
Decide what kind of strawberries you would like to grow. There are two main types of strawberries, June-bearer and ever-bearers (day-neutrals). June-bearers produce one large crop for about 2 to 4 weeks in the spring and ever-bearers produce strawberries all summer and fall, but overall produce about the same amount of berries as the June-bearers. Popular varieties of June-bearers are Earliglow known for some of the best flavor and Jewel, Allstar and Redchief. Popular varieties of ever-bearers are the Tribute and Tristar.
Choose an area that receives full sun and does not collect standing water. Standing water increases the chance of your strawberries becoming diseased. Terraced hillsides or raised garden beds are ideal.
Prepare the soil. If your soil doesn’t drain well or if it contains a lot of clay, consider planting your strawberries in raised beds. Use a rich loam soil where strawberries have not been grown for at least 3 years. If you are planting in a hanging container or small container on your porch, fill with loosely packed, rich soil.
Plant the strawberry plants in rows that are at least 4 feet apart, with the plants spaced 1 to 2 feet apart in each row for June-bearer varieties. Plant ever-bearers or day-neutrals at least 6 inches apart in rows that are about 1 foot apart. If planting in a small garden container or garden barrel, you will probably only fit about 2 to 3 plants. Make sure that the crowns of the plants are not buried beneath the soil, but also do not expose the roots. Do not use fertilizer; the roots are sensitive and will burn. Do this sometime between March and May.
Water the plants daily. They should get at least 1 inch of water a week while maturing. Remember, they should be in an area that drains well, so even though you water them often, they should never sit soaked for a long time. In zone 8, temperatures can be quite hot in mid-summer and moisture may evaporate quickly. Mulching is helpful in these areas.
Cover the ground around the strawberry plants and partially cover the plants in a layer of straw mulch so that they do not get scorched. The straw mulch helps to stabilize soil temperature throughout the day and night.
Do not allow your plants to overpopulate. They can easily crowd themselves out and will not produce large fruit. Strawberries produce runners that need to be pulled into the row. Runners will grow roots, producing a new plant. Remove all runners that there is no room for. Remove all runners that are produced after August, as these will not have enough time to produce a good plant.
Pick berries as they ripen. Don’t let overripe berries sit on the vine; this can attract bugs. June-bearers will fruit the spring of their second year and most day-neutrals will fruit 3 months after planting.
Cover the plants entirely with straw a day or two after the first frost in the fall. This will help protect them throughout the winter.