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Berry soon it'll be time to plant!

March is an ideal time to get your strawberry bed ready for planting! Know that you may not get an abundance of fruit your first year--technically, you're supposed to pinch off the blooms to allow the plants to focus on building a good root structure. My bumper crops typically start year 2 and then every year, provided that I am staying current on thinning my beds.

Unattended strawberry beds will frequently look like the one pictured above. For most of the United States, strawberries are a favorite perennial (they come back year after year) and will provide a bountiful harvest provided they receive just a little attention from the gardener. Ironically, too much attention and the strawberries will not flourish as well as if they were left to their own devices.

The bed above is WAY too crowded. Time for some hard decisions. Ideally, you need breathing room for strawberries (when starting a new patch, they recommend placing them about a foot apart since they'll send out runners each year and quickly fill the space). For the picture above, it's time to start pulling and thin out. Toss out the older ones (the crowns are much thicker than newer/younger plants). The 4-5 year old plants will slow way down in their production, allowing the younger ones to produce more. They are easy to pull and might be still connected to the parent plant by a stolon (runner). Snip or pinch that off. You can transplant now to a new place to get them established (and probably fruit in the Spring) or put in the compost bin (or give away to friends and family). If you are transplanting, know that their roots are very sensitive to drying out and so it's best to just transplant a few at a time instead of pulling all, then transplanting all. Strawberries also want/like/need full sun to produce an abundance of berries, so if you're getting a lot of shade in that area, the green will grow, but the fruit won't. In the Spring, it might not be a bad idea to add some fertilizer. Look for something with low nitrogen (N) and higher phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Fertilizers with high nitrogen will produce a lot of leafy greens, but no fruit. This concept can be applied to ALL plants in the garden, from lettuce (add more N and less P and K) to tomatoes (less N and more P and K).

Strawberries are not rotated like other veggies. They have a bed all to themselves and just thinned every year. Some folks will cover with straw (not hay, as hay contains seeds) or mulched leaves (no whole leaves as they mat down) in the winter, but you do that AFTER a hard frost. Sounds counterintuitive, but if you do it before, you've created a nice bedding area for rodents. I usually forget because we have pretty mild winters in S. Indiana and my raised bed strawberries do just fine (look rough the next Spring, but quickly heal). The ones in tubs may or may not survive...depending on severity of winter and if I took any winter protection methods. Also, depending on where you are located and how severe your winters are, if you can bring a pot into an unheated garage/shed, it might be easiest to overwinter there. I don't have much luck with my potted strawberries surviving winter, but then again, I don't put much effort into it either since I have a very full raised bed.

There are two 'types' of strawberries...June bearing and Everbearing. Then there are multiple varieties within each of those categories. If you had a large crop in June and then not much else, you have a June bearing variety and this is common in the Midwest. You get a lot all at once and then the plant is 'done'. There may be a few berries here and there, but that's not when they'll really produce. In Indiana, most places recommend June bearing.

A large variety of plants can act as companion plants next to your strawberry patch EXCEPT for nightshades (eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc) and maybe rose (I heard that before, but not really sure). I'd also avoid most melons because their vines/leaves get so large they will shade out the strawberry plants. Beans, peas, onions, etc have done well near my strawberries. Thinning usually happens towards the end of the season...I usually do it in the Fall for a few reasons (1) cooler weather/less bugs (2) I have more time (3) it allows the runners to start being established and I know what I can pull vs what may produce more plants for me (runners 'feed' off of the parent for a while before sending down roots of their own).

Advice from a STRAWBERRY

-Blossom where you're planted

-Be tasteful

-Drink in the sunshine

-Keep close to the Earth

-Savor life's sweetness

-Let good ideas ripen

-Jam with your friends!

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