WICHE: How to renovate a strawberry patch

-A A +A

You can grow them just about anywhere, but you have to work at the process.

By Jeneen Wiche

The strawberry was first cultivated in the 14th Century after a French spy collected a berry from Chile and presented it to France’s King Charles V, who than planted in the Louvre’s Royal Garden.

By the 17th century this Chilean strawberry was crossed with some found in the Virginia colonies, which gave way to the large-fruiting varieties we enjoy today.

But don’t be fooled large does not always mean flavorful!

Of the small fruits the strawberry is the most versatile; whether you have a south-facing apartment balcony or a 2-acre garden, you can grow strawberries.

Some good selections for the garden include Earliglow, Lateglow and Tristar.

For those of you who planted strawberries for the first time this spring, you may be wondering what to do with the plants now that the harvest is complete.

Actually, the first year strawberries are set out, the blossoms should be pinched off; the second year’s harvest is usually the best.

If you have an ever-bearing variety, like Tristar, pinch the blossoms through mid-July and enjoy the late-summer and fall crop of berries.

Strawberry patches should be renovated each year about this time, too. If you do not renovate the patch, your harvest will prove minimal in the following years.

Typically a strawberry patch will remain productive for 3 to 5 years with proper care.

If the bed has a couple of years on it, assess the plants before you renovate the bed. If they appear to be in good shape, look disease-free and vigorous, keep them.

If they look like they have run their course, especially if the foliage is excessively spotty, consider removing them in preparation to plant anew next spring.

Strawberries demand good drainage and rich soil, so work in composted manure before planting to achieve both effects.

To renovate an existing strawberry bed, remove the tops of the plants by running over them with your lawnmower. Set the blade at 3 to 4 inches, so you don’t injure the crown of the plant (which should be just at ground level).

Catch the clippings, too, so you can dispose of them, especially if you saw any signs of disease on the leaves. Thin the strawberry plants leaving about 5 plants per square foot and remove all weeds.

Be sure to keep the bed weed free because competition with weeds will greatly reduce your strawberry harvest.

Keep a runner or two on each side of a plant; alternate down your row by allowing one runner on the left side and two on the right side of the first plant...vice versa with the second plant, alternating back and forth as you go down the row.  

At this time, you can lightly fertilize the plants with a balanced fertilizer. I like using fish emulsion as a foliar feed, but you can also use a conventional balance like 10-10-10. The recommended rate is 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 20-foot row.

Don’t forget to fertilize your strawberry plants again in early September (adequate water is critical at this point too). This is the time of the year that it is most important because the plants begin to form their buds for next year’s fruit. Use the same amount of fertilizer as your mid-summer application.

Because of the alternate freezing and thawing of the ground that typically occurs during the winter months ,it is necessary to mulch your berries in early winter. The heaving and thawing of the soil damages the roots and runners of the plants.

Straw has always been the mulch of choice for strawberries patches. Apply a thin layer of straw now, to moderate the soil temperature and moisture through the rest of the summer, and then a couple more inches before the ground is frozen (but wait until we have had several weeks of cold temperatures so the plant knows to slow down).