By Elton Dunn

Strawberry plants grow well throughout Indiana, with Junebearing varieties being the most reliable across the state. Fresh berries can be eaten raw, cooked into jam or used in cakes and other pastries. Fruit ripens from mid May to late June in most parts of the Hoosier state, so berry plants need an early start to adapt to their planting environment and grow.

When the ground thaws enough to be worked, you can begin preparing the bed for strawberries. Turn over the soil to a depth of 12 inches, breaking up soil clods and removing rocks and debris from the soil. Work in a couple inches of compost or manure to enrich the soil. Incorporating 1 lb. of 6-24-24 NPK fertilizer for a 50-square-foot bed will give the berries enough nutrients to grow well.

Indiana growers can start strawberries in early spring, once the soil is prepared. This tends to be March or April for most of the region. If the soil is boggy from an excessively wet spring, hold off on planting until the ground dries out. Planting early gives the strawberries enough time to grow vigorously through the spring before summer weather sets it.

In each row, plan to leave 15 to 24 inches between strawberry plants. Then space rows 36 to 48 inches apart. Proper spacing allows your plants enough room to grow and fruit, while still leaving air circulation between them. Dig one hole for each strawberry plant that’s twice as wide as the plant’s root ball, then plant your berries by placing the plant in the hole and firming the soil around the roots.

Strawberries need full sun and well-draining soil, and do best in sandy loam, although they’ll grow in most Indiana soils. Gardeners should avoid planting strawberries where strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes or other plants susceptible to verticillium wilt have grown in the last two to three years, advises Purdue University horticulturist Bruce Bordelon. Recommended cultivars for Indiana include Earliglow, Redchief, Surecrop, Allstar and Annapolis.