By Lynn Byczynski
Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in American gardens and market farms. They can be grown in many places, from hanging baskets to fields to hoophouses. The trick is to match the growing system to the type of strawberry you want to grow. Some varieties need plenty of space, whereas others can be grown in containers.
June-bearing varieties initiate fruit buds in fall and blossom the following spring. They are the earliest type to fruit. They produce one crop and then spend their energy sending out runners (also called daughter plants) that will fruit the following year. June-bearing strawberries are usually grown in a matted row system, in which the mother plants are planted in spring, spaced 18-24" apart in rows that are 3-4' apart. The first year, flowers are pinched off to stimulate the plants to send out runners that fill in the spaces within the row and between the rows. Plants produce fruit the second spring. A variation of this system is to prune runners to one or two per plant so that they stay in a line and don't spread out between the rows. This obviously requires a lot more labor, but may result in better yields because of reduced competition. Matted-row systems can be renovated to keep plants producing for many years. Another system is called the ribbon row system, in which strawberry crowns are planted in fall and allowed to bloom and fruit the following spring. As runners form, they are removed to increase fruit size. Once the crop is done, runners are allowed to develop and fill in the bed to a matted row system.
Day-neutral varieties produce fruit all summer. They can be grown as annuals: plant early in spring and pinch off flowers for two months to let the plants get established, and then let them fruit the rest of the summer. Day-neutral strawberries are good for container production on a deck or patio. Some varieties, including 'Seascape', will fruit on unrooted runners so they make attractive hanging baskets, with the runner plants cascading over the sides of the basket. Day-neutral strawberries can also be grown in a hill system, with 12 inches between plants.
Alpine strawberries produce small but intensely flavorful berries. They do not send out runners and are usually grown from seed. They are a good choice for strawberry pots and other containers, or as edging in the vegetable garden. They also can be grown with less than full sun, so they are a good choice for many home gardeners.
Region-specific growing information is available from most state Extension services. ATTRA has a publication on Organic Production of Strawberries.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market, a magazine for local food producers