By Richard Jauron
Iowa State University
Fresh strawberries are an irresistible treat. They taste great on cereal, pancakes, waffles, and ice cream. They also make excellent jams, jellies, and pies.
Strawberries are well suited to home gardens. They are hardy, easy to grow, and produce a good crop with moderate effort. Early spring (April to early May) is the best time to plant strawberries in Iowa.
Home gardeners can choose from three types of strawberries. June-bearers are the most widely planted type of strawberry. They produce one crop per year, the majority of fruit ripening in June.
A second type of strawberry is the everbearing strawberry. Everbearing varieties typically produce June and late summer/early fall crops with little flowering or fruiting in the intervening weeks.
Day-neutral varieties are the third type of strawberry. Day-neutral varieties can flower and fruit throughout the growing season if temperatures are moderate. Flower and fruit production stop during hot weather.
Suggested June-bearing strawberry varieties for Iowa include ‘Earliglow,’ ‘Allstar,’ ‘Honeoye,’ ‘Surecrop,’ ‘Redchief,’ ‘Jewel,’ and ‘Kent.’ ‘Ozark Beauty’ and ‘Ogallala’ are good everbearing varieties. ‘Tristar’ and ‘Tribute’ are the best performing day-neutral varieties.
When selecting a planting site, choose an area that receives full sun and has a well-drained soil. Planting sites should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Leaf and root diseases are often problems in poorly drained, wet soils. Do not plant in areas that are heavily infested with perennial weeds. Perennial weeds, such as quackgrass, are extremely difficult to control in a strawberry planting. Also, avoid sites where strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers have been grown the last two years to prevent possible root disease problems.
Purchase virus-free strawberry plants from a reputable garden center or mail-order company. Plants from an old planting are often disease infested. If planting must be delayed after purchase, place moist material, such as wood shavings or sphagnum moss, around the roots and place the plants in a plastic bag. Store the plants in the refrigerator at 32 to 40 degrees F. They can be safely stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
Remove the strawberry plants from storage when ready to plant. Trim off the older leaves, place the roots of the plants in water for an hour, then plant immediately. Set each plant in the ground so the crown of the plant is even with the soil surface.
The type of strawberry determines plant spacing. June-bearing strawberries should be planted 18 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 4 feet apart. Runners will develop and root freely to form a matted row about 2 feet wide. Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are typically planted in beds consisting of 2 or 3 rows. Rows are spaced 1 foot apart. Plants are spaced 1 foot apart within the rows. A 2-foot-wide path should separate the beds. Any runners that develop on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries should be removed and the plants maintained as large, single plants.
Immediately after planting, water the strawberry plants and apply a starter fertilizer solution to aid establishment. A starter fertilizer solution can be prepared by dissolving 1 or 2 tablespoons of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, in one gallon of water. Apply 1 to 2 cups to each plant. A starter fertilizer solution can also be prepared using a water soluble fertilizer. Follow label directions when preparing the solution.
During the first growing season all the blossoms should be removed from June-bearing strawberries. Remove all blossoms on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries until early July. Any flowers which bloom after this period may be allowed to develop into fruit. Flower removal aids plant establishment.
Strawberries are an excellent crop for the home garden. When properly planted and given good care, one strawberry plant can yield 1 to 1-1/2 quarts of fruit.