How to Care for Strawberry Plants

Providing proper care for strawberry plants isn't complicated.

It's all about providing the proper amounts of water.

Providing the proper amount of strawberry fertilizer.

And doing a few other things.


Sacrifice Early Blossoms for Larger Future Harvests

This is one chore of strawberry plant care that can be kind of hard for some gardeners (including me!).

Not because it’s physically difficult, but because there can be a bit of a reluctance to pinch off perfectly good fruit blossoms.

But it’s all for the greater good, because pinching off early blossoms allows the plants to channel all of their energy into growing leaves, runners, crowns and roots.

The result will be larger future harvests, with a net yield eclipsing what you would have gotten without removing the early blossoms.

In fact, for June bearing strawberries, it’s best to remove the blossoms the entire first growing season.

June bearers set flower buds during the fall, so by pinching off the few blossoms that appear that first growing season, you’ll be helping the plants to set lots of flower buds in the fall. That’ll pay off big time during next season’s harvest.

Delayed gratification!

Everbearing and day neutral varieties are a bit different. They produce this season’s flower buds this season.

So pinch off the flower buds just for the first few weeks to help the plant get established, and then let them bloom. You’ll be able to harvest some fruit that first growing season. 

Lots of Water…But Not Too Much!

Proper care for strawberry plants requires making certain that your plants get as much water as they need. But strawberries are pretty sensitive to over watering, so you’ll want to be a bit careful about how much water you give them.

Ideally, strawberry plants should receive about an inch of water per week.

If Mother Nature does not cooperate in supplying that amount of rainfall, it will be up to you to make up the difference. In a week without rainfall, give your plants one good soaking rather than several brief waterings.

If you can, it’s good to keep the foliage dry by choosing an irrigation method such as a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler.

If you need to use an irrigation method that does wet the foliage, try to apply the irrigation early enough in the day so that the foliage will be dry by nightfall. This will reduce the risk of your plants becoming infected with a disease such as gray mold. 

Fertilizing Strawberry Plants

Part of providing care for strawberry plants is proper scheduling of fertilizer applications. The timing of when you apply strawberry fertilizer is a bit more sensitive than for some plants.

If you apply too much nitrogen in the spring, the plants will produce excessive foliage at the expense of fruit production, and the strawberries that are produced are liable to be soft and more vulnerable to attack by fruit rots.

Instead, wait until the harvest is over and then apply a balanced fertilizer at the rate of about ½ pound of nitrogen per 100 feet of row.

Use the fertilizer analysis of the organic or synthetic fertilizer you’re using to determine the quantity of fertilizer to apply to achieve that rate. For example, 5 pounds of 10-10-10 would give ½ pound of nitrogen.

One particular nutrient that soils are often deficient in for strawberries is boron. If you’ve tested your soil and found it to be low in boron, you can increase boron levels with Borax.

Just dissolve ¾ of an ounce of Borax in 1 gallon of water and apply evenly to the ground. That’s enough to cover 100 square feet.

Adding supplemental boron shouldn’t be necessary more than once every 3 or 4 years. And if you’re using lots of compost it’s unlikely you’ll need supplemental boron. 

Post-Harvest Care for June Bearing Strawberry Plants

After you’ve harvested the crop in June bearing strawberries, you can help to maintain the productivity of your strawberry patch by doing some renovating. (This procedure applies only to June bearing plants, not day neutral or everbearing.)

The objective is to remove most of the old foliage, thin the number of plants within the row, and maintain a desirable row width.

You can use a mower to remove the old leaves if you’re careful not to damage the crowns of the strawberry plants. Set the mower to cut about 1 inch above the tops of the crowns. Rake the cut leaves out of the strawberry beds and remove them from the strawberry patch. Toss them in your compost pile if you have one.

Use a rototiller or a hoe to reduce the width of the row to about ½ of the desired width. Mowing the leaves will spur the development of new runners, and these runners will root into fresh new plants to build your row back to the desired width.

After you’ve narrowed the row, thin out some of the remaining plants so that there’s about 4 to 6 inches between plants. And of course, pull out any weeds.

Doing all of the above will help to maximize the vigor and health of your strawberry patch, and will usually help to keep the patch productive for around 3 to 5 years.

Winter Care for Strawberry Plants

The ‘straw’ in strawberries comes from the ages-old practice of covering the plants with a layer of straw during the winter.

That’s an important procedure, because strawberry plants really aren’t all that cold hardy. Temperatures no colder than 15 degrees F may kill or damage the crowns of the plants if they are left unprotected from the cold.

Covering the plants with a layer of straw mulch about 4 to 6 inches thick acts as a blanket during severe cold snaps, trapping some of the heat of the ground around the plants.

Cover your plants after you’ve had 2 or 3 frosts in the fall (so that they can acclimate somewhat to the cold), and rake the straw mulch away from the plants when they begin to put on new growth in the spring. The straw can be raked into the aisles between the rows where it will help to suppress weed growth and prevent soil splashing onto the fruit during hard rains.

If straw isn’t available, alternative mulches include pine straw or hay (if it’s free of weed seeds). Some gardeners have even used newspaper as mulch for small plantings.

If you have some late spring cold snaps after your plants are blooming, you’ll need to take steps to provide frost protection to avoid a loss of fruit. Simply raking some of the straw mulch back over the plants temporarily may suffice, depending upon the severity of the freeze.

If you do cover blossoms for frost protection, be sure to remove the covering as soon as the threat of frost has passed so that pollinating insects such as honey bees have access to them.

Providing Proper Care for Strawberry Plants Might Seem Like Lots of Trouble…

But growing strawberry plants really isn’t all that difficult. As with anything, there’s a bit of a learning curve at first.

I’ll go out on a limb, though, and make you a promise: When you pluck that first perfect strawberry, pop it into your mouth, and savor the juicy, sun-warmed, sugary sweetness -- you’ll be quite certain it was all worthwhile!  

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