How to Renovate, Renew & Maintain a Strawberry Bed
Strawberries are Vigorous PlantsAs the strawberries increase you want to keep the beds from becoming overcrowded (which would reduce yield and could encourage diseases). It sounds rather sedate when you read that "strawberry plants spread by sending out runners". To get the real sense of those runners, think 50-yard dash if you have June-bearer strawberries. Enjoy these athletes of the vegetable kingdom, but do some post-season training to keep them in check. Everbearer strawberries produce runners too, in the Junior Varsity for speed, but they also need supervision. Your coaching duties begin after the last strawberry harvest.
Strawberry Harvest DatesJune-bearers or Short Day will produce over a 3 - 4 week period. It won't be in June if you live in Southern California or Florida; your strawberry season could be as early as March. For cool climates, harvest will be closer to June. Everbearer strawberries produce throughout the summer, either in distinct crops or continuously.
Do a Soil Test After the Final HarvestStrawberries grow best in slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.0 - 6.5. Test your soil at the end of the harvest. If you need to make your soil more acid, add a phosphorus rich fertilizer. Since strawberries are also fond of potassium, look for a fertilizer that is high in the last two numbers, like Peaceful Valley Organics Rose and Flower 4-6-3. Many organic fertilizer options are waiting for you in the Find Fertilizer Solutions guide on our Fertilizer page; for instance, click on Potassium or Phosphorus for your range of choices.
Cut & Thin Right After Harvest
Blow the whistle after the last harvest. All varieties of strawberry plants should be cut back to a height of 2 inches. How you cut depends on the planting method you're using. Pull any weeds before you start renovation.
Matted Row Method June-bearers are often planted with this method, and the runners spread all over the bed. If planted on the ground, it's easy to cut the plants back with a lawn mower set high enough to leave 2" of stems above the crowns. Matted rows in a raised bed should be cut back by hand. Popular row widths on the ground, for easy picking, are 18" - 24", with 24" paths between the rows. By the time of harvest the rows will have runners making them wider than 24". Narrow the row to a pickable size again by hoeing the runners from the edges, reducing the row to about 12" across. Or if the "mother" plants in the center of the row are declining in vigor, hoe out the center of the row and leave two rows of "daughter" plants on the edges, as the basis for two new rows. After you hoe, pull out the least healthy plants, leaving 5 or 6 robust plants for each square foot.
Hill Method Hilling is popular for Everbearer strawberries. You will not have as many runners to deal with here. Use garden scissors or shears to cut the plants back to 2" above the crowns. *Whichever cutting method you use, rake away the cut leaves and compost them, if your plants are disease-free.
FertilizeChoose your fertilizer according to your soil test results, apply, brush off any on the leaves, and water in well.
CultivateIf you've been using organic matter for mulch, turn it in to the soil (if you can do so without damaging shallow roots) or add it to your compost pile. Add 1/2" of compost around the crowns to encourage new roots. Keep the bed weeded and then mulch it before the first frost.
Follow good organic gardening practices and rotate your crops regularly. Strawberries are particularly susceptible to the soil disease verticillium wilt. To avoid this disease: 1) Rotate the strawberries to a new location every 3 years. 2) Do not plant strawberries in a bed where you recently grew solanaceous plants (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers). FOR MORE INFO on starting a new bed, watch our video of Tricia setting up irrigation and red plastic mulch, then planting out a strawberry bed. We send a Strawberries Planting & Growing Guide with each purchase of our strawberry plants, with details on how to heel in, plant, and harvest the many kinds of strawberries we carry. We read all the new books on organic and edible gardening, and for strawberry growers we especially recommend two books: * Grow the Best Strawberries, an all-strawberries-all-the-time 32 page booklet in the reliable Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin series. * The new guide to all things fruity, The Fruit Gardener's Bible, is a big, colorful tome. If you already own The Vegetable Gardener's Bible you'll understand why we're excited about this hot-off-the-presses book.
Keep your team of strawberry plants thriving, year in and year out.