Sea of strawberries
PLANT NOW FOR BOUNTY OF FRUIT

BY JAMES E. DENMAN - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON.
October 25, 2007
Although they take more than a half-year to produce, fresh grown strawberries are one of the best-tasting foods you can grow from the garden.

The fall of the year is the best time to plant strawberries and, although you are reading this just into the fall, if you plant quickly this season you will still reap a bounty of fruit.

Strawberries should really be planted in September or early October. If you wait until November your yield potential is greatly reduced and plants may not be available.

PURCHASING PLANTS
Purchase your plants from local nurseries. Call ahead to see who may have them on hand, or if they can be ordered. Be sure to ask for the bare root strawberries. They generally come 25 to a bag and are kept in the refrigerator. To keep them fresh and alive take a cooler with you when you purchase your plants.

When you arrive home, put plants in a plastic bag with a damp cloth to keep from drying out and place them in a refrigerator if not planting that day. Plant as soon as possible.

Plants can be grown in containers, raised beds 10 to 12 inches deep, or on rows in your garden. I prefer to start my plants in 6-inch pots until the roots are well established, then later plant them in the garden.

My trial-and-error proof has resulted in 100-percent success and strawberries the size of 50-cent pieces, as long as the plants remain rid of runners while producing fruit. To start out, I place the newly purchased plants into a pail of water.
Photo Credit: PHOTO BY JAMES DENMAN/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
If you plant strawberries quickly, you will still reap a bounty of fruit. Strawberries planted in the fall may best be started in pots and planted later in the garden.
This will allow the roots to straighten out.

If you plant in containers, it is best to prune the roots to avoid them being rootbound. If you plant them directly into the garden, no root pruning is needed. I prefer to start my strawberries in containers, so I cut back each root at a 45-degree angle to have 1/3 of the root remaining as illustrated in the attached photo.

POTTING STRAWBERRIES

Fill 6-inch pots with a mixture of half sand, 1/4 garden soil and 1/4 peat moss, compost or shredded bark soil conditioner. When mixing your soil before planting, use 12-12-12 fertilizer. Do not put the fertilizer on the roots.

Mix your soil well before planting your strawberries. Wet the soil down and let the moisture absorb into the pots. Insert a small spade into the soil and insert the plant. Plant so that the soil level is at the midpoint of the plant's crown (the thick spot above the roots where the leaves sprout).

Keeping your plants in 6-inch pots will help you better control watering.

When watering, try not to wet the plants. Allow approximately six weeks for the roots to establish themselves before planting in the garden. Keep your 6-inch potted plants in partial shade.

When watering plants in containers, you will wash out nutrients that must be replenished for your plants to grow sufficiently. A slow-release balanced fertilizer should be used about every seven to 10 days.

FERTILIZING STRAWBERRIES

When planting in the garden, till the soil before planting and mix in 12-12-12 fertilizer, using 1 pound per 50 square feet of bed. Strawberries thrive in acid soils and yield more and sweeter berries when growing in sandy soils. They enjoy soils high in organic matter, so build it up.

GARDEN PLANTING

I prefer to use the raised beds to plant my strawberries. And they must be planted in full sun. Use a posthole digger or shovel to dig your hole the size of the pot. Remove the plant and soil from the 6-inch container and plant it in the hole. Fill in soil around the plant, but do not cover the crown. Continue down the row every 12 inches to insure large berries next spring.

WATERING

A soaker hose works best. Lay it down by each plant on the very top of the row. After installing the hose, put fine pine bark mulch between the plants. This will protect them when the weather turns colder. Add more mulch should it turn really cold.

Never allow the ground to dry out, but don't overwater.

DELAY FRUITING
To be successful with strawberries, prevent blooms from making strawberries in the fall. Pinch off the blooms and runners to keep them from bearing. Do not allow them to fruit until the spring.

However, if you are like me, you may elect to have a few plants to bear fruit in the fall, although they will produce less in the spring.

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES
The top strawberry varieties in my opinion are chandler, seascape and sequoia. Don't waste time and money on other varieties.

Other TIPS
Although your strawberries may live throughout the summer, it is not recommended keeping plants year to year. They perform best when grown as an annual plant, replanting each fall. This eliminates the need to carry plants through the hot summer. When September comes around next year, start over.

Rotate your crops from season to season. Keep a notebook. You will be surprised how it helps when you plant next year.

Strawberries not eaten fresh can be readily frozen or preserved. They are an excellent dessert fruit. A half-cup fills an adult's daily need for vitamin C and equals about 25 calories.

Dr. Larry Stein, Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist in Uvalde has been a wealth of information for me on this and other fruits. For more detailed strawberry information, see the following Web sites:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/fruitgarden/fruitvariety.html#strawberries

http://www.texasgardener.com/pastissues/sepoct00/strawberries.html
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/hillcountry/Strawberries/intro.html
http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/sept_02/1.htm

STRAWBERRIES - BOUNTY A-PLENTY

*Order plants in September.

*Top varieties include chandler, seascape and sequoia.

*Fertilize and water regularly.

*Pinch off flowers/fruit until spring.

*Eat fresh, freeze or preserve fruit.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or
vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.