Wondering whether your garden has the best soil for strawberries?
Odds are good that you'll be able to grow strawberries at your location.
Because in truth, strawberries are fairly flexible in the types of soils and conditions in which they’ll be productive.
That's good news for strawberry lovers!
Strawberries do best in a well-drained, loamy soil that contains lots of organic matter.
The soil pH for strawberries should be in the range of 5.5 to 6.5.
If your soil doesn’t quite fit this description, you’ll still be able to grow strawberries.
But you’ll need to do some upfront work before planting time arrives.
While you’re working on the pH, you can also add some organic matter to the soil. Strawberries love soil that’s rich in organic residues. Compost, composted manure and peat moss (peat will also help lower the pH) are all great for building the level of organic matter in the soil.
Growing green manures such as rye or oats or soybeans (and many others) and tilling them into the soil is another excellent method of increasing the soil’s organic matter. But plan ahead, because any green manure cover crop should be tilled into the soil several months before it’s time to plant.
Strawberries won’t tolerate soggy, waterlogged soil, so you’ll need to know whether your soil’s drainage is adequate.
Here’s how you can test the drainage of your soil:
Pick a spot in the area where you’re planning to grow your strawberries, dig a hole about 8 inches deep, and wait for the next heavy rain. After you’ve had a heavy rainfall, note the water level in the hole that you dug.
Check the water level in the hole several times during the next 24 hours. If the water has drained completely after 24 hours, your drainage should be fine for strawberries. But if water is still standing in the hole after 24 hours, you might have a drainage problem – as far as the strawberries are concerned, anyway.
You might want to consider growing your plants on a raised strawberry bed if your soil fails the ‘drain test.’
You can make the raised bed of any width and length you wish, but try to make it at least 8 inches deep. Kits like this are available for making raised beds, or you can make a bed yourself from lumber or most any material you want.
Be sure, though, that you DO NOT use treated wood to make a raised bed. And you’ll want to be sure that the material you use will last for several years.
An alternative to building raised beds is to just form a ridge. If you just want to grow a single row of plants, a ridge will do fine. Make it at least 8 inches deep also, same as a raised bed.
The location of the garden plot you’ll be using for your strawberries is just as important as the quality of the soil and drainage.
Strawberries need lots of sunlight for full productivity, so don’t locate them where they’ll be in partial shade.
And you might be able to head-off disease problems by being careful about the previous occupants of the plot you’re eyeing for your strawberries. Strawberries are susceptible to a soil-born disease called Verticillium wilt. If your plants become infected with this fungus, it’ll really knock down their productivity.
The best defense against this problem is avoidance.
Increase your chances of avoiding Verticillium by NOT planting your strawberries in soil that previously (within the last five years) grew other crops that are also susceptible to Verticillium. Avoid following tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, raspberries, and melons, among others. (Go here for more info about Verticillium).
You should also avoid planting your strawberries adjacent to plots of ground currently growing any of these crops. And of course, don’t follow strawberries with strawberries.
It’s also best to avoid following sod with strawberries. Sod attracts grubs, and because of the huge expanse of roots in a planting of sod, a sizable population of grubs can happily munch away at the roots without noticeably damaging the sod.
Replace the sod with strawberries, though, and the grubs will happily divert their attention to the strawberry roots, doing lots of damage. Allow at least a year to pass before growing strawberries in ground that previously grew sod, and the grubs will likely have moved on in search of greener pastures.
While you’re selecting your site and preparing your soil, keep in mind that strawberry plants are perennials. If all goes well, your planting of strawberries should be productive for at least 2 or 3 years.
So it’s worth investing the time and effort to get things right in making a home for your strawberry plants.
Take pains to make those new tenants in your garden happy, and you’ll really enjoy those sweet, juicy rent payments they’ll be making each summer!