Planting Summer’s Treat: Strawberries

fingers holding a small, unripe, green strawberry and white blossom
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Strawberries (Fragaria species) are one of summer’s best treats, and there is still time now in May to plant them.  

Choose the cultivar

June-bearing strawberries provide one large crop of bigger berries and everbearing strawberries produce smaller berries throughout the growing season. There also are novelty types of strawberries that range in flavor or color – such as purple, yellow, white.

Prepare to plant

Before you plant, test your soil and amend with compost or organic matter. The addition of organic matter helps add nutrients and help with water retention. When planting strawberries, start with a weed-free, well-drained site in full sun. Remove the first flush of flowers to help this perennial plant establish a good root system. For June-bearing strawberries that means, no strawberries until next year, but it is worth the wait. Everbearing strawberries will still have berries later this season. Be ready to mulch with 4 to 6 inches of weed-free straw. Straw will have multiple benefits for your strawberries: it will suppress weed growth, retain moisture, and hold heat protecting the berries’ crown during the winter.

Plant properly by cultivar

Strawberries have multiple management systems. June-bearing strawberries are the most noted strawberry type for their size and taste. However, it’s one crop comes available for two to three weeks during June, cultivar depending. In order to extend a June harvest, different June-bearing cultivars may be planted with different harvest dates. June-bearing strawberries are commonly planted in a matted row system, 18 to 30 inches between plants and 3 to 4 feet between rows. Daughter plants will begin to develop from your mother plant to begin to form and fill-in your mat.

It is recommended that everbearing plants are planted in a hill system. In the hill system, plant them one foot apart within the row and cut off runners as they appear, which allows all of the energy to remain in the mother plant. If allowed to produce runners, flowering and fruiting are halted and energy will not stay in the crown of the plant, compromising winter hardiness. Everbearing strawberries have the ability to produce berries until frost. Everbearing berries are smaller in size than June-bearing, but you get more berries throughout the year than just one large harvest.

Strawberries may have issues with leaf spot, leaf scorch, red stele, black root rot, anthracnose, gray mold, viruses, tarnished plant bugs, spider mites, aphids, leafrollers, slugs, nematodes, and strawberry weevils. Cultivar resistances and integrated pest management programs can help with these possible issues.

Contact your local Extension office for assistance with these or other plant-related issues. Many local offices have Master Gardener Help Desks throughout the summer growing season. For more information on growing berries, check out the University of Illinois Extension’s Small Fruit Crops for the Backyard website. Also, check out the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture YouTube Channel for videos on growing berries and other horticulture topics.

 

Photo caption: Everbearing strawberries freshly planted with berries and flowers needing to be removed.

About the author: Bruce J. Black is the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator serving Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties. Black’s primary areas of expertise are in fruit and vegetable production, plant propagation, and community and youth garden education.

Special note: As of April 29, 2022, Richard Hentschel has retired from University of Illinois Extension with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois. As this growing season begins, a selection of qualified Extension guest authors will occupy this space.