In the 20 or so years that Mrs. Stoney and I have been married we have lived in 4 different homes where we were able to plant gardens. And at each home one of the first things we planted was a strawberry patch.
In fact at our first “house,” which was a small mobile home, strawberries were the only garden we had!
Each time we have planted a strawberry patch we have learned a little more about how and where to plant our strawberries. That first little patch of strawberries started out with only 6 plants that we bought at a local nursery. They were live plants and I think even back then that 6 pack of plants cost around $5.00. Establishing a large patch of strawberries using nursery grown seedlings could be a very expensive proposition. Our current patch started with over 100 plants. The most cost effective method for starting a large strawberry patch is to use bare root plants. Depending on how many you buy, I’ve seen plants costing as little as 30 cents per plant!
There are a few things you need to know about planting bare root strawberries:
- Plan on starting early – bare root plants need be planted in late March or early April. The sooner the better.
- Even if you plant early, plan on losing about 5 to 10% of your plants. So order a few extra.
- If you are planting June bearing plants you will not get a crop the first year!
- If you are planting ever bearing plants you will not get a spring crop but you will get a decent fall crop.
- Planting at the right depth is super important (see more below).
- You can get away with planting bare root plants in May, but you will not get a crop that year at all!
- Once your order of plants arrives the clock is ticking to get them in the ground, the longer you let them sit un-planted the higher your loss rate will be.
So here’s a quick run down on planting bare root strawberries:
First be sure to let the plants soak in a bucket of water for a few hours before you plant them. This gets the roots well hydrated.
Second, you will need to cut back the roots by about 1/3. Doing this prevents crowding of the roots and stimulates root growth. You could also water the plants with a very mild liquid fertilizer, being organic I like to use fish emulsion.
Third, to plant just insert a garden trowel into the soil push it forward, fan out the roots in the hole and then pull out the shovel.
Getting the right planting depth is super important. The crown of the plant needs to be set just at soil level, too deep will effect fruit and runner production. To high will effect the plants overall health. Just get those roots in the ground and be sure the plant is stable, but don’t bury that crown too deep!
Fourth, be sure to keep the plants wet and then be very patient. Don’t give up on sick looking plants, it takes a bit for them to get established. You can see our new patch above about 3 weeks after planting. They still look pretty sickly, but don’t be fooled, the root system is just getting established, give them a little care and occasional watering of fish emulsion!
Fifth, remove all the blossoms. The plants need time to focus on growing, so you need to be patient and give the patch some time to get established. You accomplish this by removing all the blossoms on June bearing plants the first year. If it is really killing you it would be okay to let one blossom develop on each plant, but I would recommend removing them all the first year. Ever bearing (or day neutral) berries are a little different. You want to remove all the spring blossoms, for us that means removing all the blossoms until about mid July (this is based on a zone 4 to 7 garden). After that you can let the blossoms that show up in late July and August develop into a nice fall crop. The first season your crop will be small, but just you wait until next spring!
You will be amazed at how many strawberries one patch can produce. Even a small patch of ever bearing plants can produce all the strawberries you want to eat fresh. A larger one like we grow usually about 50 or 60 square feet can produce upwards of 50 pounds a year! This shot is a good example of the growth of a patch in only one summer. Remember the photo up above with all the tiny struggling plants. Well this shot is the same patch only 3 months later!
Of all the different fruits we grow around Stoney Acres, strawberries are our favorite! And we love ever bearing strawberries the best. They give you a good strong crop in the spring, usually take a break from mid July to late August and then kick back up again until the snow flies in late October. They are perfect fresh as snacks, in salads, and desserts. And we also freeze about 1/2 our crop to have in smoothies, on our pancakes and in desserts all winter long as well.