September 1993 (Revised) LEAFLET NO: 8205

STRAWBERRIES IN THE HOME GARDEN

E. Barclay Poling,
Extension Horticultural Specialist

INTRODUCTION:

Strawberries are a welcome addition to any home garden. They are relatively easy to grow, require a minimum of space, and virtually no chemicals are needed. From as few as 25 transplants to start a matted row, a berry yield in excess of 50 pounds can be achieved one year after planting. Strawberries require a site that is open to direct sunlight most of the day. Try to avoid very low-lying areas prone to spring frosts, and you should definitely plan to purchase a white spunbonded row cover to protect open strawberry blossoms from spring frosts/freezes. The same cover may be used for bird control during harvest.

Berries not eaten fresh can be readily frozen or preserved. Besides being an excellent dessert fruit, strawberries are a good source of vitamin C as well as being low in calories (1/2 cup fills an adult's daily need for vitamin C and equals about 25 calories).

VARIETY SELECTION:

There are many strawberry varieties available, but it is best to select only varieties adapted to the climatic conditions found in your area. Start with disease-free certified plants from a reliable nursery. It is not a good practice to use your own plants or your neighbor's plants to set a new patch. Generally two to three varieties will be needed to extend the ripening season over a four to five week period. Everbearing varieties, Ozark Beauty and Superfection, and newer Dayneutral varieties, Tristar and Tribute, have generally not performed well in North Carolina.

It is recommended that you speak to your Cooperative Extension Agent and/or the North Carolina Department of Agriculture for a listing of anthracnose-free nurseries. For the mountain and piedmont areas, choose red stele resistant varieties, Earliglow and Sunrise, in soils where this disease is present.

SOIL TESTING AND PLANTING:

It is best to test the soil four to six months before planting. If the pH is too low, raise it to the level suggested by the soil test with dolomitic lime. Strawberries require a soil pH in the range of 5.5 to 6.5. The soil should be worked into a fine mellow condition for planting. Wait one year before planting strawberries in ground in which grass sod has been grown.

Set dormant-stored plants in March in eastern N.C. and during March or April in the piedmont and western N.C. Straw-berries are best planted in the matted row system. For a matted row bed, set the plants 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart in the row. Space the rows 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. A matted row is encouraged to develop from the runner plants that grow from the mother plant. Set plants with the with the root straight down (never bent) and with the crown even with the top of the ground. Soon after planting blossoms will emerge that should be pinched to encourage early runnering from the mother plant.

Table 1.  STRAWBERRY VARIETIES SUGGESTED FOR HOME GARDENS IN
N.C.      
            AREA                    FRUIT    FRESH       PROCESS  
VARIETY     ADAPTED*    SEASON      SIZE     QUALITY     QUALITY 

Apollo      all         mid-late    Lg       good        good     
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  low-mod
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  1-1/2

Atlas       CP,P        early-mid   Lg       fair        fair     
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  high
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2

Cardinal    all         midseason   Med      good        v. good  
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  v. high
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2

Earlibelle  CP,P        v. early    Sm       good        v. good  
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  v. high
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2 1/2

Earliglow   WNC,P       v. early    Sm       excel       excel
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  mod-high
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2  

Prelude     P,CP        v. early    Lg       excel       good    
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  mod
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  1-1/2  

Sunrise     all         early       Sm       fair        fair    
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  v. high
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2-1/2  

Tenn. 
  Beauty    WNC         late        Sm       fair        fair
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  mod
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  2  

Titan       CP,P        early-mid   Lg       excel       v. good 
  PLANT MAKING ABILITY:  low-mod
  SPACING MATTING ROW (ft):  1-1/2                               
                                             
 *Adapted area designations:  CP=coastal plain; P=piedmont;
WNC=western N.C.; all=adapted to all areas.

FERTILIZATION:

Key Objectives - the strawberry plant is shallow rooted and must be fertilized during the growing season to keep it vigorous. And, plants should be fertilized before September, prior to the period of fruit-bud initiation.

Soil analytical services provided free of charge by the N.C. Department of Agriculture provide information on soil pH, dolomitic lime requirement, available phosphorus, potassium and magnesium levels, percentage humic matter, and total nitrogen content. However, there is no satisfactory analytical method for determining the amount of nitrogen in the soil sample that is immediately available for plant growth. The percentage humic matter and total nitrogen content give indications of overall soil fertility and this can be a useful guide to nitrogen availability. Essentially, you should follow the test recommendations for adjusting soil phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) before planting. If no soil test has been made, broadcast about 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each 100 feet of row 2 to 3 weeks before planting strawberries.

First season fertilizer - if new plants appear light green and are not growing well, sidedress with nitrogen (N) about one month after planting. Apply either 1 1/2 pound ammonium nitrate per 100 feet of row, or about 5 pounds 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row. A topdress application of ammonium nitrate at 1 1/2 pounds per 100 feet of row should be made again in late August. When topdressing strawberry plants, apply the fertilizer evenly and be sure to brush all fertilizer off the leaves to protect from fertilizer burn. The late August N application is necessary to promote good flower bud development in the fall. Very light coastal soils need additional N again in late January. The rate suggested at this time is 3/4 pounds ammonium nitrate, or 2 1/2 pounds 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row.

Second season fertilizer - prior to mowing the strawberry foliage at renovation (see Renovation), broadcast 3 to 4 pounds of a complete fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10) or 1 1/2 pounds ammonium nitrate per 100 feet of row. Follow the same recommendations indicated for the first season fertilizer program in late August and again in late January (for sandy coastal soils). Prior to renovation, a second soil sample can be taken to furnish more exact recommendations for the summer and fall growing period.

Organic fertilizers - many of these if properly used are perfectly satisfactory. Dried Blood (12-14% N) is of course organic and immediately available. It leaves an acid reaction. Bone Meal contains 20-24% phosphoric acid, acting slowly, while steamed bone meal acts more quickly. Wood ashes can be used for supplying potash. For those who wish more information contact your County Cooperative Extension Office.

MULCHING:

Key Objectives - in western N.C., the foothills and upper piedmont, a mulch is applied in the early winter, preferably after the ground has frozen for the first time, to prevent the soil from freezing and thawing and heaving of the plants. Also, when growth begins in the spring, a mulch of straw or pine needles on the ground helps to keep the berries clean as they ripen, conserves the moisture in the soil and is an excellent means for controlling weeds.

EASTERN CAROLINA AND CENTRAL PIEDMONT - Apply pine needles or grain straw in February. Scatter lightly over plants and in middles between rows.

WESTERN CAROLINA, FOOTHILLS AND UPPER PIEDMONT - In December, broadcast sufficient pine needles or grain straw in the middles and around the plants to protect crown. Use a light application on top of the plants at the higher elevations after the ground has frozen. This will prevent heaving of the plants and protect them from cold, drying winds when there is no snow cover.

IRRIGATION:

Strawberry plants have a shallow root system and cannot stand severe drought. If drought comes during any of the following "critical" times, irrigate enough to wet the soil 6 to 8 inches deep once a week:
  1. When plants are set and during dry periods following setting;
  2. Just before harvest and during harvest when berry size appears to be suffering;
  3. After renovation, as needed, to encourage new runner plant;
  4. In late August, September, and early October when fruit buds are forming the next season's crop;
  5. Irrigation, if used properly, can also help prevent frost injury to blossoms in spring (check with your cooperative extension agent for recommendations - row covers are far more convenient to use for frost/freeze control).

WEED CONTROL:

Hand-hoeing and hand-weeding are very important in strawberry plantings. There are several weed-control materials for the strawberry, but in general home garden plantings are best weeded without the use of chemicals. It is difficult to apply the chemical at the proper rate without the necessary equipment and there is the danger of doing damage to adjacent vegetable and flower plants (spray drift). Subsequent crops following strawberries in the garden may also be sensitive to these chemicals. The basic methods of controlling weeds are:
  1. Machine cultivation plus hoeing and hand pulling;
  2. Mulching with suitable material;
  3. Chemical herbicides (check with your county extension);
  4. Geese ("goosing your strawberries" is still popular in some areas of the U.S.)
HERBICIDES SHOULD NOT BE APPLIED WHEN PLANTS ARE BLOOMING, WHEN RUNNER PLANTS ARE TAKING ROOT, AND DURING LATE SUMMER AND EARLY FALL WHEN FRUIT BUDS ARE BEING FORMED.

HARVEST:

Strawberry harvest begins in latter part of April in eastern North Carolina, early May in Piedmont, and late May in mountains. You should pick strawberries every other day or three times a week. Pick the fruit with about 1/4 of the stem attached. The best time to pick is in early morning when berries are still cool. Not all berries ripen at the same time; pick only those that are fully red.

RENOVATION OR RENEWING THE PLANTING:

Matted row strawberry plantings may bear fruit for more than one season, and may be kept for two or possibly 3 to 4 fruiting seasons if properly renovated. The main purpose of renovation is to keep plants from becoming too crowded in beds. Do not attempt to renew strawberry beds infested with weeds, diseases, or insects; it is better to set a new planting. To renew a planting follow these three steps:
  1. Mow off the leaves, rake away from plants and dispose of them (take your rotary lawn mower and mow over top of bed setting blade about 4").
  2. Cut back rows with a cultivator, rototiller or hoe to a strip 12-18 inches wide.
  3. Thin the plants leaving only the most healthy and vigorous. Plants should be about six inches apart in all directions.

INSECT AND DISEASE PROBLEMS:

Although strawberries can have their share of insect and disease problems, most homeowners ignore them unless they become serious. Following these seven precautions should minimize pest problems.
  1. Use anthracnose-free plants for setting.
  2. Choose a well-drained soil for planting strawberries - this will reduce the likelihood of red stele infection.
  3. Rotate your strawberry patch every 3 to 4 years.
  4. During harvest remove berries damaged by diseases and insects as this reduces the amount of fruit rot.
  5. Properly renovate beds to remove older diseased foliage and keep from getting too crowded.
  6. Don't keep a planting in production too long; start a new planting every year or two to replace old plantings after their second or third crop.
  7. Do not allow insects and diseases to build up. Follow your county extension agent recommendations to achieve control of pests.
                          STRAWBERRIES
                     Month-by-Month Guide  
=================================================================
Month       Tasks to be performed   

January     Order new plants.  Apollo requires another variety. 
            February Plant (CP); fertilize (CP) old beds; apply
            mulch (CP, P); 2 weeks prior to new planting apply
            fertilizer plus lime.

March       Plant (P, WNC) certified plant; MR space 2 x 4 ft;
            Frost protect blossoms (CP)

April       Remove mulch covering (WNC); cultivate/water/frost
            protection; control pests. Frost protect blossoms.

May         Water if dry; nets for birds; harvest each 2 days;
            new plants remove blossoms; training of
            runners/hoeing.

June        Harvest (P, WNC); runner training; pest control;
            water if dry; renovate old beds after fruiting.

July        Pest control; fertilize as needed; water and
            cultivate.

August      Pest control; water if dry; fertilize in mid-August;
            check for mites.

September   Fertilize in mid-September; pest control; water
            liberally; thin to 6 plants per square foot; soil
            test for fertilizer and nematodes.

October     Water if dry; prepare new land; need ph greater than
            5.8.

November    Locate mulch supply.

December    Broadcast mulch after ground has frozen (WNC).       

                          Published by
          North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.