How To Grow Strawberries
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One of the most popular berries grown in home gardens, strawberries will bear fruit for up to six months, each plant yielding up to half a kilogram of delicious fruit each year. Strawberries are used fresh, marketed frozen, processed in foods such as jam and ice cream, or used to flavour drinks such as milkshakes.
Strawberries can be grown in a wide range of climates ranging from southern Tasmania to northern Queensland, as well as south west Western Australia. They will benefit from protection against frosts, and against cold and wet conditions during autumn. Movable plastic tunnels known as cloches are widely used for this purpose.
Strawberries grow best in deep, well drained, slightly acid to slightly alkaline soils. Poorly drained heavy clay soils should be avoided. They are heavy feeders and will benefit from the application of large amounts of well rotted organic matter such as composts and manures, prior to planting. Side dressings of fertilisers during active growth periods are important. Regular moisture is important for good fruit production.
Where to Plant Strawberries
For large garden plantings strawberries can be grown in a similar fashion to commercial growers. Here raised beds are formed approximately 15 20cm high and 60 90cm wide. This will be wide enough for two rows of plants. The length of the rows will depend on the amount of space you have available and how many plants you wish to grow. If you want to use more than one bed then you should allow sufficient space between the beds for easy access. There should be a 30cm gap between the two rows in the bed and about 30 40cm between individual plants in each row.
Black polythene sheeting can be used as a mulch to help control weeds, warm the soil, maintain moisture levels, and keep the fruit off the soil thereby keeping them clean and less likely to suffer pest and disease problems. The surface of the raised bed should be even so that the plastic lies flat against the soil surface. The edges of the plastic are buried under the soil alongside the beds. A row of small holes should be made in the plastic down the centre of the bed to allow water penetration.
To plant simply make a small slit in the plastic at the correct spacing and push the plant into the soil, making sure the roots are pushed well into the soil. The base of the plant should be level with the plastic sheeting. The plants should then be watered well. Installation of a trickle irrigation system with individual drippers to each plant will generally give a significant yield increase. Planting times are autumn to early winter in cool to mild climates and late summer to autumn in warm climates.
Once plants are established remove any runners to promote fruiting. During winter remove old growth and trim the remaining top growth to reduce pest and disease problems. At all times particularly in active growth stages maintain adequate moisture levels. As fruit ripens reduce watering to produce firmer fruit. A virus disease makes it necessary to treat plantings as a short term proposition. Plants are usually cropped for 2 to 3 years and then new plantings are carried out using certified virus free runners.
Strawberries should be harvested in the cooler part of the day every second days. Pick with the stem intact except when you are making jam. This reduces the likelihood of fungal problems occurring. They should be stored in cool conditions e.g. fridge. If the berries are to be kept for any length of time they should be frozen.
The commercial strawberries are cultivars derived from hybrids between Fragaria chiloensis and F. virginiana.
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