I love strawberries in summer, but my advice is don't wait until then to plant them. Spring and autumn are the ideal times to plant strawberries to ensure you get bigger crops in summer.
Strawberries are one of the quickest of all the berry fruits to produce a crop. The plant is usually only retained for one or two years before it is replaced with a new one. This is because they produce at their best on their first and second year and decline each year thereafter. There is, however, still hope after you have bought these little gems. Each plant usually sends out runners, these can be cut off the mother plant and replanted to create new plants; by doing this you are guaranteed successful production year after year.
They need a sunny, warm, well-drained position that is humus rich and slightly acidic. Dig in plenty of compost or Oderings ‘Tomato & Veggie Mix’ at the time of planting. Plant strawberries in mounded rows or ridges; this helps with drainage, prevents root disease and keeps the roots warmer, increasing growth and production. Plant 15cm apart with the crown above ground level. At the start of spring apply Tui Strawberry Fertiliser; this is high in potash to encourage fruiting. Strawberries are also great planted in containers or in hanging baskets. The Oderings ‘Fruit & Veggie Mix’ is again a good product to use when planting. When feeding container grown use a liquid fertiliser such as the Yates Liquid Potash or Oderings Total Replenish. When growing in pots select a suitable planter. If unglazed you may need to seal your pot first. Add Oderings Potting Mix, start placing strawberries in layers. To help with watering I place a ‘sausage’ shape of sphagnum moss in the centre of the planter. Keep adding soil up to next set of holes, until all the gaps have been planted, fill to the top with soil and plant strawberries on top layer.
The main question is whether or not to use black polythene. The main reason black polythene is used is to keep the plants and the fruit clean. It is also good for keeping a high soil temperature for better fruit production. The disadvantage is that polythene doesn’t breathe so the soil deteriorates faster. The alternative to polythene is newspaper, weed mat or mulch; these let the soil breathe and help keep moisture in during summer.
There are a few different methods to control birds eating the fruit but the most effective is bird netting. It is no good throwing the netting straight over the plants as these cunning feathery friends will still find a way to reach the fruit. Putting netting over a frame is the best way to protect your plants. It does make it a little harder to get the berries but at least you get to eat them.
My Top Tasty Tip
If you want flavour, flavour and more flavour from your strawberries there are two tips that are a must. The first is to fertilise your plant with potash, this has two jobs; the first being it adds the nutrients needed to help the plants flower and fruit, and the second is potash also helps makes the fruit sweeter and juicier. I love the Yates ‘Liquid Potash’, this product works so much faster than the traditional powder potash. My 2nd tip is to reduce the watering of the plants one week prior to harvest; this will also help retain the juicy sweet flavour of the fruit.
• Cut off any runners that appear before flowers form.
• Protect with bird netting when strawberries are fruiting.
• Apply sulphate of potash or Yates Liquid Potash in early spring to promote healthy fruit. Oderings Garden Replenish can be used once flowering has begun.
• Pick regularly as plants can produce a second burst of fruit towards autumn, especially if leaves are removed after the summer crop.
• Water regularly, a drip line is quite effective. Avoid water contact with the berries, which promotes botrytis.
• Reduce watering as the berries start to redden to enhance flavour.
• Remove old leaves and stems when fruiting has finished.
• New plants can be grown from runners. Select plants that have fruited well. Peg the runners in a small pot of compost and let roots develop before separating from the parent plant.
• Beds should be renewed every 1-3 years. Fertilise plants once fruiting has finished if retaining for the following year.
• Strawberries are perennials allowing the production of bigger and better fruit, replacing every 2-3 years as older plants become more prone to pests and diseases.