By Dena Kane
Strawberry plants, known botanically as Fragaria, are fruiting perennials with a trailing and clumping growth habit. They produce white blooms and deep red fruits on medium to dark green slightly furry foliage. Different strawberry varietals fruit at specified times during the season, including early season, mid-season, late season and ever-bearing, which fruit continuously from mid-spring through summer. Strawberries are generally hardy in USDA Zones 3a through 9b.
Strawberry plants are best transplanted in the early spring after the last threat of frost has passed and daily temperatures are above 45 to 50 degrees F. Although strawberries are hardy at lower temperatures, waiting until you have these more mild conditions will greatly reduce the stress on the plants and newly forming roots and will speed the plant’s development.
Strawberries love full sun exposures but will still thrive and fruit in partial shade. They require a consistently moist but never constantly wet soil that is well drained and has good nutrient level. Strawberries prefer an acidic to slightly acidic soil ranging from 5.7 to 6.5 pH. If need be, amend your soil to raise its acidity by tilling in sphagnum peat moss or gypsum. Place the plant in a hole with the soil surrounding the root ball, but never place soil over the center or crown of the plant. Strawberries can be fertilized once or twice per month with a water-soluble balanced fertilizer applied according to directions for a light dose. They are relatively low-growing plants reaching only 6 inches in height at maturity but have a much larger spread up to 14 inches, depending on the varietal. Do not to crowd the plants, and allow an ample interval between plants for good sun penetration into the crown and air flow.
Strawberry fruits can be harvested throughout the season as they ripen, being either pulled gently or cut from the thin, green stem. To increase the health of the plants over the long term, pinch off all of the blooms the first season they appear, which will delay fruiting but will result in a more robust and therefore heavier fruiting plant in the second season. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged foliage and stems with shears throughout the season as you notice them.