Growing Strawberries

Types

June bearing or spring bearing, everbearing and day neutral are the three types of strawberries grown in Illinois. Fruits of day neutral plants and everbearers are usually smaller than June-bearers fruit.

June bearing strawberries produce a crop during a two-to-three week period in the spring. June-bearers produce flowers, fruits and runners. They are classified into early, mid-season and late varieties.

Everbearing strawberries produce three periods of flowers and fruit during the spring, summer and fall. Everbearers do not produce many runners.

Day neutral strawberries will produce fruit throughout the growing season. These strawberries produce just a few runners.

Everbearing and day neutral strawberries are great for gardeners who have limited space. They can be grown in terraced beds, barrels or pyramids. They can also be used as an edging plant or a groundcover.

Strawberry Varieties

Strawberry varieties should be selected on the basis of dessert quality; preserving quality; disease resistance and season of maturation.

Strawberry cultivars for Illinois, listed by season from earliest to latest within groups and disease resistance

Strawberry type

Fruit size

Red stele

Verticillium wilt

Region of adaptation*

June bearing Earligrow medium R3 R N,C,S

Annapolis

large

R

S

N

Honeoye

large

S

S

N,C,S

Delmarvel

large

R

R

N,C,S

Seneca

medium

S

S

N,C

Jewel

large

S

S

N,C,S

Kent

large

S

S

N,C

Allstar

very large

R

R

N,C,S

Day neutrals

Tristar

medium

R

R

N,C,S

Tribute

medium

R

R

N,C,S

R = resistant to this disease; S=susceptible to this disease.

*N = adapted to region north of Interstate 80; C = adapted to region between Interstate 80 and Interstate 70; S = adapted to region south of Interstate 70.

When to Plant

Plant strawberries as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. This is usually in March or April allowing the plants to become well established before the hot weather arrives. Do not work the soil if it is wet. Wait a few days until it dries.

Planting Depth

Try to plant strawberries on a cloudy day or during the late afternoon. Set the strawberry plant in the soil so that the soil is just covering the tops of the roots. Do not cover the crown. After four or five weeks, the plants will produce runners and new daughter plants.

The center plant is set correctly, with the soil just covering the tops of the roots. The plant on the left is set too shallow; the plant on the right too deep.

Planting Systems

Matted Row Systems

This system is the best for growing June-bearing cultivars. In this system, the strawberry plants should be set eighteen to thirty inches apart in rows three to four feet apart. Daughter plants are allowed to root freely to become a matted row no wider than two feet.

Spaced-Row Systems

This system limits the number of daughter plants that grow from a mother plant. The mother plants are set eighteen to thirty inches apart in rows three to four feet apart. The daughter plants are spaced to root no closer than four inches apart. All other runners are pulled or cut from the mother plants. Even though more care is needed under this system, advantages include higher yields, larger berries and fewer disease problems.

Hill System

This is the best system for growing day-neutral and everbearing strawberries. In this system all the runners are removed so only the original mother plant remains. Removing the runners causes the mother plant to develop more crowns and flower stalks. Multiple rows are arranged in groups of two, three or four plants with a two foot walkway between each group of rows. Plants are set about one foot apart in multiple rows. During the first two or three weeks of growth, the planting should be weeded; then the bed should be mulched.

Blossom Removal

During the first growing season, remove flowers of June-bearing strawberries as soon as they appear. Removing the flowers promotes root and runner development thereby insuring a large crop the following year.

For everbearing and day-neutral strawberries, remove the flowers until the end of June and then after that date allow the flowers to remain to set fruit for a summer/fall harvest.

General Care

Strawberries are among the most widely grown fruit in the home garden. Strawberries prefer a well drained soil, high in organic matter. They need full sun for the highest yields, at least 6 hours per day. Do not plant strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes have been grown. These plants could harbor verticillium wilt, a serious strawberry disease. Strawberries need about one inch of water per week during the growing season.

Fertilization

Before planting apply one pound per 100 square feet of a 10-10-10 fertilizer and dig into soil at least six to eight inches deep. After the first harvest in the second season strawberries should be fertilized after renovation in July. Water the fertilizer in to get it down to the root zone. This application is made to keep the plants in a vigorous condition and to promote new growth causing the development of more fruit buds. Do not over fertilize. Overfertilization will cause excessive vegetative growth, reduce yields; increase losses from frost and foliar disease and result in winter injury.

Mulching

Strawberries are very susceptible to frosts in the spring. Mulches that have covered the plants during the winter months should be removed in the early spring but should be left in the aisles to cover the blossoms in the spring when frost is predicted. Old blankets or sheets can be used for protection against frost. Spun bond material such as Reemay or row covers will protect strawberry plantings down to temperatures of about 23°-25°F. In the fall between mid-November and mid-December in Illinois but before temperatures drop below 20 degrees; apply a straw mulch three to four inches deep over the rows. This mulch will protect the plants from cold temperatures that can kill the buds and injure roots and crowns. Remove the mulch in the spring when the strawberry leaves show yellow. Leave some of the mulch around the plants to keep the fruit from soil contact and to conserve soil moisture.

Renovation

Renovation is an important part of strawberry care. In order to insure good fruit production, June-bearing strawberries grown in the matted row system should be renovated every year right after harvest. A strawberry patch will continue to be productive for three to four years as long as the planting is maintained. The first step in the renovation process is to mow the old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns. Rake the leaves and if disease-free, compost or incorporate into the soil. Fertilize with one pound of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Narrow the rows to six to twelve inches wide by spading, hoeing or rototilling. Remove all weeds. Thin the plants in the narrowed row to 4 to 6 inches between plants. Water with one inch of water per week to promote growth and to make new runners for next year's crop.