Strawberry Fields Forever

With tunes of John Lennon whirling around in my mind, I am planting strawberries. As with most things in my garden, berries were not in the plan; this is more of the right word in the right place kind of adventure.

While chatting with neighbors, I casually mentioned a cheerful tub of strawberry plants growing outside a building’s front door. Next thing I know, there were strawberry plants on my front porch. Little did I know they have their very own strawberry patch in the backyard and were willing to share.

To reduce the temptation for critters and creatures that surround the little house on a big hill, I decided to plant my berries in hanging pots and cover them in netting. I picked a spot that will give them at least six hours of sunshine each day and used a soil (and pot) that will provide good drainage for the plants. If planting directly into the ground, be sure to mix in compost or other organic materials and consider building a protective cage to surround the plants.

There are three different types of strawberries: Day-Neutral, June bearing, and Everbearing. June bearing will give you bigger berries and a high yield of crops, but as the name implies, you harvest only in June.

Day-Neutral berries produce new flowers and fruit throughout the season, from late June to mid-fall.

Everbearing produces a smaller berry and smaller yield, but expect to harvest up to three times a year, spring, summer and fall. This is what I am planting this fall.

When placing your strawberry plants in the ground, set them deep enough to cover the roots but not the crown of the plant. These are not royal or majestic plants; the crown is where the roots meet the stems and leaves. The roots will grow down from the crown and the stems will grow up above ground. I was careful to place them with the crown resting on top of the soil surface.

If planting in the ground, and I guess the same is true for containers, you can protect the berries from getting wet and muddy by covering the soil with straw or leaves. Plus, it will help keep the soil’s moisture from evaporating. Another thought for in-ground planting: before the freezing temperatures set in, cover the plants with a heavy layer of leaves or mulch, then remove coverings in the spring. I will bring my containers under roof to offer them protection from the cold.

Everbearing strawberries are sensitive to the length of daylight, temperatures and climate zones. When there is 12 hours of daylight and the plants are established, they should begin to form flowers, later becoming fruit. Plants will respond well to fertilizer applied once in the spring. No need to do this more often — one annual application will be enough for the season. Strawberries are hardy in climate zones 3-10.

Strawberry plants send out runners to form new plants. Everbearing will not run like June bearing; this is another reason they work well in containers. Some gardeners mix the two to increase the harvest.

If you are serious about your berry production, you may want to snip the first blooms the plants produce. This will allow the plant to spend its nutrition and energy growing stronger roots and not immediately producing fruit. By June, the plant will be healthy and ready to bear berries.

Because these plants work hard giving berries several times a year, they will not last forever. The perennial plant will bear repeated produce but generally, after three to four years, you will see signs that the plant should be replaced in order to live up to the Beatles lyrics and have strawberry fields forever.