By Julie Christensen

February is a bit early for planting strawberries unless you live in a climate with very mild winters, but if the soil is soft enough to work, you can plant bare root strawberries. These plants are dug from nursery fields and shipped in moist sawdust. They are still dormant, meaning that new leaves and flowers have not emerged. Because the plants are dormant, they can be planted in early spring. Wait to plant tender potted strawberry plants until late spring.

Select a location that receives at least eight hours of sunlight daily for your strawberry patch. Remove any weeds or debris from the site. Lay 2 to 3 inches of compost over the soil and till it to a depth of 10 inches. Dig 10-10-10 fertilizer into the soil at a rate of 1/2 cup per 100 square feet.

Buy certified disease-free bare root plants from your local nursery or feed store. Healthy plants may look brown and dry, but avoid those that are slimy or have soft spots. Trim the roots so they are no longer than 6 inches and soak the roots for 30 minutes.

Make holes spaced 12 inches apart for the strawberry plants. Plant the strawberries so their roots are spread out in the hole, and only the roots and the very bottom part of the crown are covered with soil. Leave at least half the crown, which is the area between the roots and the leaves, uncovered by soil.

Press the soil gently around the roots and water the plants well. Cover the plants with a mulch of straw if the weather is still frosty. Remove the mulch as new growth appears, but keep it close at hand and re-cover the berries if inclement weather is predicted. Strawberry blossoms are easily nipped by spring frosts, reducing or eliminating early summer harvests.

If you live in a frost-free climate, plant potted strawberries in February, just as you would potted annuals.

The hill system is used to plant ever-bearing or day neutral strawberry varieties. The plants grow in a broad swath, but are pruned annually. Gardeners growing June-bearing strawberries may prefer the matted row system, in which strawberry plants are planted 2 to 3 feet apart and allowed to spread through the runners.

Plan on replacing your strawberry plants every three to five years as vigor decreases.

Do not plant strawberries where grass grew recently because grubs living in the grass may damage strawberries. Avoid growing strawberries near raspberries, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, if possible, because these plants carry the same diseases.