Strawberries are best planted in early spring as early as the ground can be
worked in all sections of the country except the South, the Southwest, and
coastal areas of California, where they should be planted in the fall. In the
South, especially in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, they can even be planted
in early winter.
Choosing a Planting Place: Sites and Soil
In selecting a site for your plants, be sure not to choose an area where
tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, or any member of the Solanaceae family
has been grown within three years - for strawberries can contact the soil borne
disease verticillium wilt left by these crops and become stunted or die. It
isn't really wise to plant strawberries where any crop has grown for the last
three years, as such land often contains troublesome pests (especially perennial
weeds, insects, and nematodes) as well as soil borne diseases. If you plan to
replace a lawn with a strawberry bed, turn the sod over at least a year
beforehand to rid the area of grubs that may have been feeding at the grass
roots and would harm the plants. Where grubs are a minor problem, just turning
the soil over and allowing winter cold to kill most of them will be enough. In
really infested areas chemicals like chlordane will have to be used.
Strawberries should ideally be grown on newly planted land, but since this is
usually impractical, try to pick any plot with a good supply of organic matter
that is relatively free of weeds. Definitely avoid soils infested with perennial
weeds like nutgrass, quackgrass, or bindweed unless you can entirely eliminate
these pests. Strawberries need full sun to do their best, but in selecting the
site also try to consider air and water drainage, land slope, and direction of
land exposure. Where late spring frosts are frequent, choose ground higher than
the surrounding areas, there being less danger of frost damage on high ground
because cold air flows to the adjoining low ground. While bottom lands can
produce higher yields because of greater soil fertility and moisture, the frost
hazard is greater in such locations, too, a slope of only two or three feet in a
hundred giving some protection from frost. A gradual slope is preferable to a
steep one because it is less liable to sod runoff. Strawberries on southern
slopes ripen a few days earlier than those on northern slopes, so choose a site
that slopes to the south if you want berries as early as possible and choose one
that slopes to the north if you want to delay ripening several days.
Any good garden soil or soil containing an ample supply of organic matter will
do for strawberries. Ideally the soil's pH should range from 5.5 to 6.5,
moderately acid, but the berries aren't too particular about this. Extremely
light and heavy soils aren't as desirable as sandy, gravelly, or silty clay
loams. Growers desiring early fruit generally prefer sandy soils, although they
are usually more infertile and subject to drought. It is important that
strawberry soil be well drained (moist but not wet), as plants can die when wet
ground freezes in the winter, especially if the soil is clay or fine sandy silt.
Wet soil also inhibits plant growth and can lead to damage by red stele root
To he sure that the soil is fertile, work in compost or cow manure at a rate of
one bushel for every 50 square feet. Chicken manure or hog manure should be used
at only one third this rate, as it contains too much available nitrogen. Another
way to make certain the soil is well supplied with humus is to plant a green
cover crop like clover, rye, or vetch the previous year and turn it under before
setting out your strawberries.
If manure isn't available, other organic materials can be dug into the soil.
Sawdust, wood chips, or crushed corncobs can be applied at the rate of 10 pounds
per square yard. Mix in about 10 ounces of fish meal or 14 ounces of cottonseed
meal to provide nitrogen to help break them down. Shredded, composted leaves
need no nitrogen added and are applied at the rate of 6 bushels per 100 square
If you want to use commercial fertilizer, which we don't recommend for long term
soil fertility, fertilize with about 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet
well before planting. Generally, the more peat moss, compost, and well rotted
manure you can work into a strawberry patch at the onset, the bigger and better
your crop from year to year.
Spacing the Plants
Before doing any actual planting, decide which strawberry spacing system you
want to use. The four most popular follow, each with its own particular assets
and liabilities. Remember that in all these systems, plants are set out in
spring and flowers are removed from the plants the entire first growing season
so that they can build up strength to yield a bumper crop the next year. This is
the case with all varieties except Everbearers, whose flowers are removed up
until the latter part of July, the plants allowed to blossom and fruit
thereafter. Strawberry plants set in the fall can be allowed to fruit the next
spring, but yields won't be as high as when they, too, are deblossomed. There
are, of course, numerous variations you can make on any of the following spacing
methods, many of which often go by other names.
THE HILL SYSTEM " This method requires the most work and yields the biggest
berries. Under the hill system plants are set out 12 inches apart in rows 12
inches to 2 feet apart. No new runner or daughter plants (long, green, string
like growths which produce new plants at their tips) are allowed to form from
the mother plants; any runners are snipped off or cut off with a hoe before they
can root. Runners can also be prevented from rooting by planting the mother
plants in holes made in black plastic spread over the strawberry patch.
All plants are set 12 inches apart and
runners are allowed to develop.
In what is called the double row hill system the plants are set out in two rows
12 inches apart from each other, with the plants 12 inches apart in each row. A
24-inch alley where nothing is planted separates each double row from the next
double row. In the triple row hill system three rows of plants are set 12 inches
apart from each other, again with the plants 12 inches apart in rows. There is
also a 24-inch "alley" separation here between each set of triple rows. A four
row hill system can also be used. Obviously there is more bending and stretching
the more rows you plant in the hill system, which somewhat offsets the space and
Plants grown in any hill system are turned under after 2 to 3 years, when the
plants lose their productiveness. This first crop will be best and later crops
successively poorer. Some growers even replant every year, either from new
plants or plants raised from runners. The triple row hill system referred to is
used by those California growers who produce 50,000 quarts of berries an acre.
The California plants are Everbearers that do not set fruit on runners the same
season and they are grown in raised beds, which you can simulate by enclosing
your patch with railroad ties, filling in good strawberry soil between them, and
then setting your plants in the triple row system.
Double row Hill. Here the plants are set out in 2 rows each 12 inches
apart; between double rows there is a 2 foot alley for walking.
Some growers try to renovate hill system patches after the big bearing year by
mowing and fertilizing the plants immediately after harvest. In any case, the
following year's yield is never even half of the prime crop.
THE MATTED ROW SYSTEM
Here, in the exact opposite of the hill system, the
mother plants are set out 2 feet apart and all runner plants are allowed to
root, making for small berries. Use varieties that form many runners.
Everbearers that fruit on their runners the same year should always be grown by
this method or the following one. The beds formed usually have 2 to 3 inches
between plants and only enough plants are cut off to allow 11/2 to 2 feet
between rows, each row kept about 2 feet wide. This is the easiest way to grow
strawberries, but yields are not great and the quality of the fruit is not
excellent. The yield is only greater than the single row hill system, all others
topping it. New beds are started anywhere from 2 to 4 years after planting.
THE SPACED MATTED ROW SYSTEM (or HEDGE ROW SYSTEM)
This is a compromise
between the first two methods. Plants are set as in the matted row system above
and 4 to 6 runner plants are allowed to root from each mother plant. The runner
plants form a circle around each plant and are 6 to 8 inches apart from each
other. The next year these runners will produce a bumper crop and send out more
runners. Let all of them root except any that extend into the alleys between
rows. Allow the plants to grow for another year or two as if they were planted
in a matted row and then turn the bed under, starting a new patch in a different
place. It's a lot of work keeping the runners thinned so precisely the first
year, but in the second year this system will yield more and better berries than
the matted row system or hill system. Berries will be bigger the second year
than in any method but the hill system. After the second year you'll obviously
get the same kind of crop as from the matted row system. Earlidawn, Red Rich,
and other varieties that form few runners should be used here.
THE THREE ROW BED SYSTEM
Rows of plants are set one foot apart, with plants three feet apart in
each row. Two of the earliest runners to appear on each mother plant are
allowed to root one to the left of the mother plant down the row and the
other to the right of the mother plant up the row. (These runners can be
set in place with a hairpin to keep them straight in line while they
root.) When they root, they are severed from the mother plant, which is
destroyed the second year, the runners replacing it. In following years
enough runners from plants are allowed to root to maintain a bed with
plants set a foot apart, eliminating all need of replanting.
Care of Plants Before Planting
Strawberry plants are usually sold bare root in bundles of 12 to 100 and sent to
you at the time you indicate. Each plant should have a good, healthy, vigorous
mass of roots, not a few thick, straggly roots. Soak the plants in water or
"puddle" them in a mixture of mud and water for several hours if they arrive in
a very dry condition, storing them in the shade.
Heeling Strawberry Plants in a V shaped Trench
To heel in plants
place them in a trench with a crown at ground level.
Then firmly pack soil about the roots.
If you expect 2 to 3 days to pass between receiving plants from the nursery and
planting, they can be stored in the refrigerator unopened. But if any longer
time is involved, it is best to heel them into the ground individually by
placing the plants in a V shaped trench deep enough for the roots to be spread
out when the crowns are at ground level. Place the plants one next to another
along a sloping edge of the trench, taking care not to let the roots of adjacent
plants get tangled. Then pack soil firmly about the roots. New roots may form if
the plants are heeled in more than several days. Take special care not to damage
these when removing the plants from the trench for permanent planting. (See the
illustrations on page 24 and 25)
How to Plant
Dip roots of the plants in water or a mixture of water and mud while planting
and keep them covered so that they aren't exposed to air or sunlight. Space
plants apart from one another according to the spacing system you have chosen
for your strawberry bed. When planting, remove all but one or two small bright
green inside leaves from each plant, trim dead or broken roots off each plant,
and prune the roots so that they are no more than 5 or 6 inches long. Make a
slit in the soil by inserting a broad bladed garden trowel about 6 inches deep
and moving the handle back and forth. Planting depth is very important the
plants must be set at the same depth they grew in the nursery, not too deep
(causing them to smother and die), or too shallow (causing them to dry out). The
crown or thick portion in the center of each plant must be just below ground
level, half of it buried and half above the soil: the roots shouldn't be seen.
Keeping this in mind, set the plants in the slits or holes you have made and
spread out their roots in fanlike fashion. Be sure to pack the soil around the
roots of each plant to avoid air pockets. One way this can be done is by
stepping on each plant - place your instep over the crown of the plant and step
firmly. Any plant that can easily be pulled up by a quick jerk on a leaf hasn't
been set firmly enough - the leaf stem should break.
Planting Strawberries - Make a hole with a trowel. Firm each of the sides.
Spread roots with your fingers as you place the plant in the hole; fill with
The proper planting depth for a strawberry plant.
Two people can set a large strawberry planting much easier than one, and with
much less bending. One person inserts a spade in the soil and the other places a
plant in the hole made. The first person then withdraws the spade, firming the
soil around the plant roots with his foot.
Water your strawberry plants thoroughly after planting if the soil is dry. The
bed won't look like much that day, but within a week the first set of three new
leaves will begin emerging from the crown on each plant.