Strawberry production in home gardens is an interesting phenomenon. More people are happier with strawberry plants that produce less fruit than any other crop they grow. Why? If a tomato variety produced only one serving every two weeks -- which is common for the ever-bearing strawberry types -- gardeners would rapidly abandon it. Yet, I constantly encounter gardeners who criticize my renaming of the "ever-bearing" strawberry to "never-bearing strawberry." You should consider the effort of watering, insect, disease and weed control involved, and the potential yield of the "ever-bearing" strawberries before wasting valuable time and space on strawberry growing.
Yet, after all are said and done, gardeners still wanted to grow strawberries! Why? The strawberry is the first fruit ready to harvest in the spring and, most important, they are good to eat. Strawberries can be grown in this area if the right things are done at the right time with the right varieties.
The right time to plant strawberries is beginning in September-- NOT in the spring or after the Poteet Strawberry Festival in April. Gardeners who procrastinate until late November reduce yield potential. Poteet strawberry producers use an 8-month system -- plant in September, harvest in April and destroy the plants in June. This system differs from the conventional strawberry production system used by our northern neighbors who plant in February and enjoying the best harvest 14 months later in April or May. Again, that term "efficiency" pops up. Which is more efficient, the 8-month or the 14-month system -- especially when yields are the same?
None of the strawberry varieties which you see in mail order catalogs will perform as well as the plants which are sold in local nurseries beginning in September. Tests of strawberry varieties proved ‘Seascape’, ‘Festival’ and ‘Radiance’ to be the best tasting and most productive. Just be sure to remove all blooms, fruits and runners that are produced in the fall until Christmas so that strong "Mother" plant growth is encouraged.
Now you know the right time and the right plants to use. The most difficult task is yet to come -- doing the right things to insure adequate yields. Gardeners will always successfully produce strawberries if they keep one basic fact in mind. Strawberry plants detest, abhor and generally don't enjoy growing in the material located in the backyard which is loosely termed "soil". Strawberries are commercially produced in sandy soil and while they will grow in our soil, that doesn't mean that it will necessarily be producing efficiently. Strawberry plants thrive in acid soils -- ours is alkaline. Strawberry plants yield more, and sweeter berries, when growing in slightly acidic soils -- ours is clay and alkaline (high pH of 7.8 or higher). Strawberry plants enjoy soils high in organic matter -- ours is extremely deficient.
Sound bad? The situation may seem hopeless, but for the die-hard gardener, NOTHING is impossible. The simple answer is to grow strawberries in containers. Whiskey barrels, hanging baskets or any well-draining container filled with a sphagnum-base potting mix -- not garden soil -- will produce an abundance of strawberries.
The difference is the yield per plant caused by optimum growing conditions. A container that drains well, filled with a potting mix offers the ideal situation for berry production. Sphagnum-base potting mixes are acidic in nature and drain well. This ideal growing condition may cause strawberry plants to yield as much as a pint of berries per plant. You can produce more strawberries from plants growing in one hanging basket than you can from plants growing in a 100-square foot area where there is alkaline soil and hungry pill bugs (rollie pollies)!
Lack of continuous fertilization for container-grown fruits and vegetables is one mistake that most gardeners make. To insure adequate fertilization, add a copious amount (at least twice the label recommended amount) of Osmocote slow release fertilizer pellets to each container. Also, feed container plants with a soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) every 7 to 10 days. Most potting mixes contain no fertilizer elements. The containers require regular watering which wash out nutrient elements that must be replenished if plants are expected to grow vigorously.
The only insect threat that you will have to contend with are spider mites, controlled by using a weekly soaking application of Liquid Seaweed extract spray, and pill bugs (sow bugs), controlled by using bug baits, 2 bricks or a heavy foot! Foliage and fruit diseases can be controlled by using a weekly fungicide sprays that contain chlorothanol (Ortho Daconil) during wet periods.
So as you see, strawberry production is simple. You should transplant strawberry plants now into containers and place in a sunny location. Remove all of the blooms, fruit and runners that are formed between now and Christmas, and prepare for an abundant harvest of luscious berries in March or April. Each, and I repeat, EACH strawberry plant should yield AT LEAST one pint of berries!
GROWING PLANTS IN LARGE BARRELS AND UPRIGHT CONTAINERS
Of course, the larger the container, the more plants can be planted and, subsequently, more berries will be produced. A person should drill 2- inch diameter holes in the sides of the barrel. Space the holes 10 to 12 inches apart around the barrel, and make sure that holes are offset (not directly above one another) between rows. Drill smaller holes in the bottom of the barrel to insure adequate drainage.
Once the barrel is drilled, it is planting time. Barrels cut into halves are easiest to handle and get the best growing results. Whole barrels sometimes do not drain properly, and plants in lower holes die. A center core of a porous material surrounded by a well-drained potting mix will insure success. I find that a wire mesh of hardware cloth formed into a 10 to 12 inch circle, placed in the center of the barrel and filled with perlite or coarse bark will insure proper watering of lower plants.
As the potting mix is poured into the barrel and firmed, strawberry transplants are planted in the drilled side holes from the inside of the barrel.
Four heavy-duty coasters can be attached directly to the bottom of the barrel so that it can be rotated to so that all plants will receive adequate sunlight, insuring uniform plant growth. Don't worry about protecting plants during the winter because they won't freeze!