If you have been thinking of growing strawberries, do not delay. They should be planted immediately. As with most edible crops, they need full sun and plenty of rich, well dug soil to get them away to a good start. Good drainage is important. If you mound the soil, you get maximum exposure to the sun for the berries but you also hasten drying out over summer. Commercially, strawberries are usually grown in black plastic. This heats up the soil faster for early production and keeps the fruit clean by stopping splashing of mud. If you prefer not to use plastic, the traditional mulch is straw – hence the name of strawberries, perhaps? You may need to keep applying mulch as the season progresses.
Space plants at about 30cm, usually staggered in a double row. Garden centres will be selling reliable named varieties or you can take runners off your last year’s crop if you grew them. The runners are the plant’s way of increasing itself and good strong ones will be full of vim and vigour. Expect the biggest and the best berries in the first season (maybe even for Christmas dinner). If you keep the plants well fed, you will get more but smaller berries the following summer but it is not usually worth persisting with the same plants past the second season.
Plan from the start how you will cover your plants. If you don’t, the birds will beat you to every red fruit. We cover ours from the start to stop the birds from raking over the mulch and to foil the elusive resident rabbit from excavating the plants, using netting spread over cloche hoops.
If you are going to grow them in pots, they will need frequent watering and liquid feeding as soon as temperatures rise again.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.