Sweet on Strawberries
Grown in a patch or container, this fruit offers ripe rewards
There may be a prettier and more delicious fruit than the strawberry, but I don't know of one. None is as versatile or simpler to grow, and now is the best time to plant them.
Start by buying certified disease-free plants that are labeled as such from the garden center. For a reliable harvest, choose at least two different selections of the June-bearing type that produce one crop a year in late spring or early summer, depending on your climate. Multicrop, everbearing types don't perform as well in the South. Plant disease-resistant ‘Allstar,' ‘Apollo,' ‘Earliglow,' and ‘Surecrop' in the Upper through Lower South (USDA Zones 6 through 8). For the Coastal and Tropical South (USDA Zones 9 and 10), go with tasty ‘Rosa Linda,' ‘Strawberry Festival,' and ‘Sweet Charlie.'
Plant Like a Pro
"Mother" plants grow 6 to 8 inches tall and send out numerous runners that root as they go, producing new "daughter" plants on the ends. Set out mother plants so the crowns (the points where the stems and roots meet) are exactly at soil level. Space plants 14 to 18 inches apart in rows 4 feet apart. Runners will form matted rows about 2 to 3 feet wide—leaving you room to walk between rows. Remove all flowers the first year (although it may break your heart to do so). This promotes better root growth, more runners, and larger crops in subsequent years. If you don't want a strawberry patch or the soil in your yard isn't suitable for the fruit, substitute containers filled with name-brand potting soil—not topsoil or "garden soil." Three plants are plenty for a pot, window box, or hanging basket.
Keep Berries Growing
Mulch between plants growing in the ground to deter weeds, conserve soil moisture, and keep the fruit above the soil. Fruit lying on dirt is more prone to pests. Use nonbark mulches like pine straw or hay. Scare off birds that rob ripening fruit by running a string between two poles on each end of the patch and attaching strips of aluminum foil to it. (Flashes of reflected light spook them.) After each harvest, renovate a patch by mowing it at 2 1/2 inches and discarding the old foliage. Thin each row to about half its width, removing the mother plants and keeping the daughters.
Renovation isn't needed for containers. Just replace the plants every three years. You can afford it.
SOIL Moist, well-drained, and acid with lots of organic matter
FERTILIZER In the garden, apply 1⁄2 cup of a 10-10-10 product per 10 feet of row in spring and August. In pots, feed monthly with a liquid blossom-booster fertilizer.