By Samantha Volz

The United States Department of Agriculture splits the country up into zones to make it easier to understand how plants grow in different climates. The zones are determined by the area’s average minimum temperature. In zone 6, which includes parts of California, Texas and even southern areas of Pennsylvania, that temperature is minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Strawberry planting must take place in the spring in these areas to achieve a healthy crop.

For zone 6, the goal is to plant strawberries after the threat of frost is mostly gone but before the temperatures get too high. The optimal month for planting strawberries is March in these areas. The chance of frost has all but passed and there are still at least two to three months before the summer heat will beat down on the berries. If a surprise frost takes place, the strawberries should be able to withstand a short burst of cold.

Plant strawberries in an area of your garden or yard that receives at least seven hours of full sun each day. Strong sunlight will ensure larger and healthier fruit. The vine structure of the strawberry plant means that you can plant them in hanging pots, on arbors or trellises like grapes or on the ground. As attractive as these berries are to us, they also appeal to deer, rabbits and birds, so if you ever see these critters in your yard or garden, keep your berries in an area that is protected by fences or arbors.

Strawberries require moist but well-draining soil or else they can suffer from rot and similar diseases. Before planting, amend your soil with organic amendments like aged manure or compost to increase drainage. Space multiple strawberry plants at least 18 inches apart; if planting in rows, space rows at least 3 feet apart so that you have room to walk among the plants to care for or harvest the berries without stepping on others.

Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of pine straw mulch around the strawberries as soon as you see the plant start to bloom. This will insulate the strawberries from extreme heat as summer approaches. Mulch also helps the soil around the berries maintain moisture, preventing the berries from drying out. Water strawberries with 1 to 2 inches of water every week, depending on rainfall. In general, water them whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry to the touch to keep them consistently moist. Fertilize the plants with organic liquid fertilizer every three weeks during the growing season (generally until the end of summer or early fall) to encourage large and healthy berries.