By Katherine Kally
Strawberries are a rewarding fruit to cultivate in a home garden. Each strawberry plant may produce up to one quart of fruit during the planting season, or during the following season. With proper care, strawberry plants return to produce fruit for up to four years, but the quantity of fruit production decreases each year.
June-bearers, Day-neutrals and Ever-bearers are the three main types of strawberry plants for home growth. June-bearers bear fruit once each spring during a two to three week time frame based on the variety: early, mid-season or late. Ever-bearing strawberries produce fruit twice during the spring, summer and fall. Day-neutral strawberry plants produce fruit continuously during the late spring. Day-neutral cultivars prefer cooler temperatures, ever-bearers make good ground covers and June-bearers do well in a variety of conditions.
Alpine strawberries grow well from seeds. Alpine seeds require cold-treatment prior to planting, which simulates a winter season. Place the seeds in a closed jar or bag and leave them in the freezer for up to four weeks. Allow the seeds to return to room temperature before planting them in seed containers. Place a 1/2-inch deep layer of a 75-25 mixture of peat moss and organic soil into each seed tray compartment. Water the soil in the seed trays, and sprinkle the strawberry seeds on top. Cover the seeds with a light layer of peat moss. Place the trays in direct sunlight; keep the seeds moist for two to three weeks, until germination. Plant the strawberry plants in the garden during the spring or in containers after the plants sprout the third true leaves.
Plant strawberry plants in the garden in the spring as soon as the soil is dry and workable. You can also plant strawberries in the late fall for fruit the following year. Strawberries prefer full sun and sandy soil with good drainage. Plant strawberries in elevated rows spaced between 36 and 48 inches apart. Set the plants between 15 and 24 inches apart along each row. If tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, peppers and other soil-disease prone plants were previously planted in your garden, wait two to three years after these plants have been removed before planting strawberries.
Maintain a weed free space around strawberry plants in your garden, especially during the first planting season. Pinch off the first flowers as soon as they appear to promote vigorous growth. Strawberries need a minimum of 1 to 1-1/2 inches of water each week. Fertilize the soil around strawberry plants with 12-12-12 as the plants begin to grow; avoid applying fertilizer directly to the strawberry plants. Apply another application of 12-12-12 fertilizer during August or September. Mulch strawberry plants during December with a 2-inch layer of straw or bark chips, but remove the mulch in the spring when the first leaves develop.