Plant of the Week – Strawberries

Plant of the week - strawberries

Who doesn’t like strawberries?  We see them every spring, full, ripe, and luscious in the markets.  Growing them can be one of the most rewarding gardening efforts that you can undertake.  There is no better treat than to go into the garden, pick a handful of ripe strawberries, put them in a bowl and splash a little cream on top.  Yum.

The Rose of the Fruit Garden

Strawberry (or Fragaria virginiana) is in the Rosacea family of plants.  As you guess from that, strawberries are in the rose family, and like most members of this family are perennials.  They enjoy full sun, well-drained soil rich in organic material.  It is almost impossible for a home grower to grow strawberries from seeds, so putting in transplants is the usual method of planting.

Most people don’t realize that the first year’s harvest may be meager.  The plants take on average 16 months to mature to full production.   Plant from December to February.  Don’t expect the first real harvest until spring 16 months later. 

Strawberry Habits

Strawberries grow from 6 to 8 inches tall and will spread up to 18 inches.  They don’t like crowding, which can result in less fruit production or stunted fruit production (Smaller misshapen fruit).  When planting, the crown of the plant should be above the soil, and the top layer of roots only about ¼ inch deep.  If you plant strawberries too deep or too low, they may rot.  Exposed roots will dry out and die. 

Problems and Pests

plant of the week - strawberries - with slugs

Snails can be a problem as can slugs.  Cedar flakes, hot pepper flakes, or D-E (diatomaceous earth) around the plants are effective in controlling snails and slugs (and a host[DH1]  of other plant pests as well)  If watering practices are not proper, spider mites can be a problem.  Strawberries may be affected by various leaf and fruit fungi.  Spraying with an organic solution like Garret Juice can usually control this.

Planting

Our recommendation for strawberries is to plant them in rows, 16 to 18 inches apart and space the rows two feet apart.  Before planting, work organic compost into the soil at a rate of 20lbs per 1000 square feet.  When planting your transplants, sprinkle a mixture of dry molasses and worm castings into the bottom of the hole.  Mix the castings and the molasses one to one for this.  I use a large plastic spice shaker with the holes slightly enlarged.

Watering

Water carefully.  Water slowly so that it infiltrates deeply and evenly.  Drip irrigation is the best method, especially if you are row mulching. Allow the top layer of soil to dry completely before watering again, which will help control pill bugs, snails, and slugs.  Use compost tea or Garrett Juice as a foliar fertilizer several times during the growing season.  Apply coffee grounds around the plants in the spring and again in the fall.  Applying coffee grounds helps control pill bugs and will enrich the soil at the same time. 

Other Problems

plant of the week - strawberries with deformed fruit

Strawberries may show deformed or small fruit for a variety of reasons.  Over or under watering and overfeeding can cause the fruit to be misshapen.  Several varieties may produce smaller fruit the first season and not produce full-sized fruit until the second season of growth.  Of course, insect damage or disease can also be the culprit if your strawberries are strangely shaped or small.

Harvesting and Uses

Harvest your strawberries when they are full and red all over.  Store in the refrigerator.  They will not keep long, so eat them quickly while they are fresh.  Dipping your fresh strawberries in apple cider vinegar and then rinsing them will help deter mold growth if keeping them for a few days. 

Strawberries are said to have cancer-fighting abilities.  Just be aware that the large majority of strawberries that you see in the supermarket are not grown with organic principles.  They are usually heavily sprayed with pesticides, which tend to build up in the fruit.  So growing your own has a lot of positive benefits.

Our choice for best perennial strawberries are “Sunshine,” Pocahontas,” and “Cardinal”  Annual varieties include “Sequoia,” “Fresno,” “Tioga,” and “Douglas.”

Links and Resources

The Texas A&M University AgriLife Research station here in Lubbock does a lot of research and testing of strawberries for field and greenhouse production.  TAMU has several good articles and booklets on growing strawberries in Texas. 

TAMU Texas Grown Strawberries.

For a more in-depth look at growing strawberries in the West Texas area using low tunnels, this article from TAMU was authored by Russ Wallace and Joel Webb, who works at the AgriLife extensions center here in Lubbock County.  You can download the article here.

Low Tunnel Strawberry Guide

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

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