By Kym Pokorny
OSU Extension Service
Whether dipped in chocolate, tossed in a fruit salad or eaten naked, strawberries say summer in a big way. But they aren’t always cheap or sweet when bought at the store, so save money and get the freshest by growing your own.
The first thing you need to know is what type of strawberry you want: June bearing, everbearing or day neutral. As the name implies, June bearing plants produce berries primarily in June; everbearing in early summer and fall with not much in between; and day neutral yield all summer except during very hot periods when temperatures get above 90.
Day neutral are what most home gardeners will want unless they need a large batch of berries all at once to make jam, according to experts from the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Once you’ve decided on the type of strawberry to grow, you’ll want to choose a variety. For June bearing, there’s “Hood,” which gives one good flush of berries in June and July and is the standard bearer for flavor. But most people will lean toward the day neutral varieties; “Albion” and “Seascape” are good choices. Readily available in the ever-bearing category is “Quinault.”
More varieties are recommended on OSU Extension’s website by searching for “Strawberry Cultivars for Western Oregon and Washington.” There are a few suggested for colder areas, as well. Charts in the publication indicate when and how much the plant bears; type of berry and flavor; and susceptible diseases. For general growing information, refer to “Growing Strawberries in Your Home Garden,” and for gardening at the beach, check out “Growing Berries on the Oregon Coast: Strawberries.”
Don’t be dismayed when strawberries don’t bear much the first year. Plants will produce a full crop the next year and two to four seasons after that before production dwindles. At that point, new plants will need to go in. Start a new patch in the year your existing one is in its last season so you don’t skip a year of fruit.
To get maximum yield, never let plants be stressed by lack of water. Keep newly set strawberries well irrigated with about 1 to 1½ inches of water a week. Don’t saturate the soil — strawberries dislike wet feet. Let the soil dry out to the touch (up to the first knuckle) before watering and then water down to 6 to 8 inches.
Annual renovation is necessary for June bearers but not day neutral or everbearing. After plants have finished producing berries, use a string trimmer or rotary mower and cut plants to about 2 inches above the crown. Remove the debris, but don’t rake vigorously or you’ll damage the crowns.
Strawberries are susceptible to verticillium wilt, so it’s a good idea to rotate beds periodically. Spotted wing drosophila can be a pest; the best control is to keep your beds clean. Pick berries regularly, try to avoid a wet environment and keep runners pruned. The natural pesticide spinosad, sold under various brands, is one of the best treatments if they do get started on your fruit.
Search online for OSU Extension Gardening Information to see articles and tips, a seasonal calendar, links to garden-related publications and news about the OSU Extension Master Gardener program.