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  • Julie Branstetter

Strawberry Garden Blues

Well, I finally did it. I pulled up the boards around my strawberry bed (100 sq ft) and mowed over the entire thing. I cut up the wood for fire pit burning in the evenings because I do hate to waste. I didn't want to mow over the berry patch but I had to, it was an eye sore that hurt more everyday to see. It wasn't easy to do since I had to wait a year before I could even profit from those strawberries, but they didn't do well this year and I have learned a few things over the course of the last (almost) 2 years about strawberry gardening that led me to the conclusion that I just needed to start over.

1. Don't always follow the directions!!!! Well, you can follow these directions of course, but the nursery directions are sometimes a little too general to be right! I bought 25 ever-bearing strawberry bare root plants from a mail order catalog and followed perfectly the directions for planting them. That was a mistake. :( When we pick strawberries locally I have always noticed that the plants are planted in rows of hills. I almost planted my strawberries this way, which would have been smart, but instead I followed the directions to till up the ground flat and plant the plants flat in the ground. Have you ever had to try to keep the weeds out of a year old strawberry bed planted flat with runners everywhere? You don't want to. I just couldn't maintain it by the end of last year and this year the grass and weeds had nearly taken it over. On top of that, the squirrels in my yard started off at war with me this year. They know I sleep late so they come out at the crack of dawn and gather up what tiny green strawberries I had. I barely took 6 berries out of 100 square foot garden this year!! Beyond sad, I know. 2. Fertilize early!! Before you start seeing the growth in early spring go ahead and put down some fertilizer in late winter and let the winter rain soak it into the roots good before the plants take off. That way you will get a better spring production. Stop fertilizing once you see fruit forming. If you started early there is enough in the soil for your season. If you have ever bearing strawberries they will bloom twice a year so fertilize again in the middle of the two seasons. 3. Pick off the blooms in your first season!! I know, everything I type has lots of exclamations marks, but bear with me, I just had to dig up a 100 square foot strawberry bed after only 1 and a half seasons. I'm a little on edge. :) When you first plant your strawberry plants, you will need to pick the blooms off for the first season up until July. After July just let the berries go and if you get any berries, great. Chances are you will reap your first produce the following spring and you will reap for about 4 years (if you plant the garden right). I know it is hard to pull those little promising buds off, but if you don't you won't get nearly as many berries for as many years. If you will just pick those blooms off, you will be rolling in berries next spring. I ended up picking a half gallon of berries a day every single morning for a couple months at least and we ate every single one every single morning. Yum yum!!!! 4. Plant the plants you want and cut the runners. For God sake, cut the runners!!!!!!!!! Seriously, if you don't cut those runners you will be sorry!!!! You may be wondering what a runner is? It's a little plant 'arm' and 'leg' that shoots out of your plant near the end of each bloom season and as soon as the tip of it hits the ground (vines out) it replants itself and starts a new plant. I know it looks like, "Wow, my 25 plants turned into 125 plants and they are all bearing!!!!" But then all of a sudden you realize....wait a minute.. I can't maintain this garden.... I don't have rows anymore.... there's nowhere to walk....I can't see the berries... I can't kill these weeds, I can't see what is weeds and what is.... O_O... yeah, CUT THE RUNNERS!!!! ;) 5. Prepare to battle with slugs and bugs! Now if you plant your berries up on hills, like good little lads a lassies will do, you won't have AS MUCH of a problem with the slugs/bugs, BUT you will need to treat that strawberry garden anyway because if you build it they will come. And they will tear through your garden like a home invasion. They will eat little hallways down into every berry and their babies come into the world already knowing exactly how to do it too. You can get a granule from the local nursery to kill the slugs and try spraying a general pesticide (organic if you like) to keep the insects away. In summary, the very best advice is to put your strawberry plants in a raised bed, and build up rows in the bed for your plants. Pick off the blooms in your first year up until July. Fertilize early and pick all your berries early in the mornings so you don't attract insects and animals. Spray for pests and never ever ever forget to CUT THE RUNNERS! Please don't do what I did and be tempted to let your garden multiply on it's own. Runners are unruly and they will take over your life. They really are evil. I warned you. You are going to do it anyway, aren't you? :) Oh and one last thing! In the late fall when your plants begin to slump and wither in, cut the garden back to the ground (a weed-eater and a rake will work) and cover it with about 2 inches of pine straw. In late winter, very early spring add some fertilizer to the bed but don't pull the straw back until you start to see a little bit of new growth popping up. Then pull it all back and pull out any weeds. I would sprinkle a little bit of PREEN in just to give it a good start at staying weed-free. Especially since you are fertilizing it at that time. So plant a bed and build some rows and grow some strawberries. I'm starting over with my new found knowledge and I will build up my beds and rows and CUT THE RUNNERS this time! :) God bless and enjoy your berries! Grow enough of them and your neighbors will enjoy them too.

#strawberrygardening #gardening

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