Growing Strawberries - January 31, 2007
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural
Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Strawberries are easy to grow and very popular with backyard gardeners across the country. Arizona is not known for its strawberry production and our climate can pose some challenges. However, strawberries are definitely worth a try if you have some extra garden space and are willing to nurture them. A bed of 25 to 50 strawberry plants will produce enough fruit to feed a family and those not eaten fresh can easily be frozen. If space is limited, you may consider planting strawberries in a strawberry jar (a ceramic pot with many planting pockets on the sides).
Strawberries are a perennial plant composed of a crown (a shortened stem), leaves, and roots. Most roots will grow in the upper 6 inches of soil, but may go as deep as 12 inches. Clusters of flowers develop from the terminal bud of the plant. Strawberries reproduce by runners (stolons) which take root and create new plants. There are three types of strawberries: June-bearers, everbearers, and day-neutrals. As you might think, they differ in their response to day length which affects berry and runner production.
June-bearers develop flowers in the early spring from buds formed the previous fall when day length is less than 10 hours/day. They require a full, well-developed leaf canopy during the fall period to produce energy required to form the buds. June-bearers are very productive, but late spring frosts can harm flowers and reduce yields. June-bearers are best suited to warm areas where spring frost damage is not an issue. You may also consider providing some frost protection (such as a cold frame, row cover, or hoop house).
Everbearing strawberries initiate flower production when day length is greater than 12 hours and generally produce a spring and a fall crop. If frost kills the spring crop, a fall crop can still be produced. They do not tolerate heat as well as June-bearers, so should be planted in colder locations. Some everbearing cultivars to consider are: Fort Laramie; Gem Everbearing; Ogallala; Ozark Beauty; Quinault; and Streamliner.
Day-neutral strawberries are unique in that they can flower and fruit under any day length conditions producing fruit from spring to fall. However, when temperatures go above 70 degrees F, flower formation is inhibited. They are often favored for planting in containers. Some day-neutral cultivars to consider are: Fern; Selva; Tribute; and Tristar.
Ideally, strawberry beds should be located on elevated ground with gentle slopes (cold air flows downhill like water). A northern exposure will also delay bloom in the spring if frosts are a consideration. Locations near a house can also be warmer due to heat generated by the home. Strawberries prefer full sun except in the low elevation deserts where afternoon shade can benefit the plants. Sites should also be free of perennial weeds such as bermudagrass.
Strawberries prefer well-drained, sandy loam soils high in organic matter. Alkaline soils should also be amended with soil sulfur. Before planting, incorporate one pound of 12-24-12 fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. (or equivalent). It is recommended to remove the first flowers after planting to improve plant establishment. Yearly fertilization should not occur until after spring crop has been harvested. Here, a 10-10-10 fertilizer can be applied at 1 ½ pounds per 100 sq. ft. If iron deficiency symptoms appear (see March 9, 2005 Backyard Gardener), treat with a foliar application of iron chelate.
Order plants during winter for planting in spring after the danger of hard frost is past. Plants can be kept refrigerated and humidified or healed-in in the garden if they arrive prior to planting. Do not allow plants to dry out before or during planting. Before planting, trim roots to 4-6 inches long and remove damaged leaves. Planting depth is critical with strawberries. All roots should be buried and the terminal bud should be exposed. Space plants 12-18 inches apart.
Periodic renovation of established strawberry beds is often required to thin out older crowns and reduce runner density. The extra plantlets can be used to plant new beds or given to friends. For more information on growing strawberries, consult the links included on the web version of this column.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at email@example.com and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
More information on growing strawberries:
*Utah State University Publication: Strawberries for the Home Garden
*New Mexico State University Publication: Home Garden Strawberry Production in New Mexico
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