April 19th, 2012
If you love to grow strawberries, spring is the best time to accomplish several tasks related to strawberry bed preparation and care. Strawberries are relatively low maintenance small fruit crops and easy to grow. They do, however, require yearly maintenance to encourage a bountiful crop.
First, take a good look at your strawberry bed. Remove the pine straw mulch you placed over the plants in the fall to prevent them from freezing. Forgot the mulch? Then take a good look at the plants, particularly the crowns or middle sections. If they’re green and you see signs of new growth, they’re fine. If they’re brown and dead looking, wait a bit until your frost free date for your region and see if they come to life. If not, consider replacing them.
Pull out any weeds that you see. It’s better to pull weeds by hand from the strawberry bed than to use herbicides. Herbicides are often sprayed onto weeds, and even a little bit of spray that accidentally drifts onto your strawberry plants can kill or severely damage them.
Check the spacing between your plants. Strawberries send out runners called stolons, and small strawberry plants called daughter plants develop along the stolon. They take root where they are and grow into new plants, then send out their own stolons and start the cycle all over again. As the strawberry bed matures, some areas can become very crowded with plants, which isn’t healthy for them. Older “mother” plants can also die off, leaving sections of the garden without plants and other sections too crowded. Spring is an excellent time to dig up daughter plants and move them into areas where die-off has left gaps. Leave about a foot of space between rows to give strawberries plenty of room to grow.
I like to top dress my strawberry patch with a healthy heaping shovelful of well-rotted compost. I work it into the soil with a small garden hoe, carefully raking it into the top level of soil without disturbing the roots of the plants. You can also use a commercial 10-10-10 garden fertilizer.
Be sure to keep your strawberry plants well-watered, especially any that you have transplanted. After the flowers appear, it’s only a matter of time after the pollinators have done their job before you’ll have delicious strawberries developing on each plant. That’s when watering is critical. If nature isn’t providing an inch per week of rain, you’ll have to water your strawberry patch to ensure even fruit development.
Lastly, here’s a word of advice if crows or other birds harvest ripe berries before you’re able to pick them. Consider using floating row covers or bird netting over the patch. A simple hoop arrangement of flexible plastic pipe or wire hoops with bird netting over the top can keep hungry crows from ruining your crop. Rabbits should be fenced out of the garden, since again, any sprays that make food unpalatable to rabbits also make them unpalatable to people.