|Fall planting of strawberries has
its advantages to home gardeners in some areas,
particularly to those who want to have a bearing
bed as soon as possible in their own back yard.
We have been familiar for many
years with the feasibility-in fact, even the distinct
advantages-of fall planting in some northerly
areas. Fall planting of strawberries may be practiced
fairly far north, if the transplants may gain
a foothold before hard freezing weather sets in.
The new planting must be mulched in time to minimize
the hazards of alternate freezing and thawing
of the soil crust, for this would expose the roots
to dehydration and resulting winter injury.
Here in Michigan, many gardeners
prefer to give their fall set plants an early
start by setting them out some time between mid-September
and mid October, On the other hand, mid November
plantings at the Geneva (New York) Experiment
Station have wintered over as well as mid-October
plantings. Researchers there demonstrated some
very much greater yields from fall plantings after
a certain length of time-sometimes even doubled
yields, compared with spring plantings of plants
freshly dug in the spring.
Going southward in Mid-America,
we learn that some commercial growers in southwest
Missouri have found November planting of strawberries
to be profitable. Plants set at, this time generally
produce a better row than spring-set plants, and
give an increased yield if the growing season
is dry, since they get off to an earlier start
in the spring. If commercial growers find a practice
profitable, the home gardener may usually profit
by imitating it.
The ground is prepared and the
plants are set in the same manner as for spring
planting. It is necessary to mulch the plants
to prevent winter injury, but in Missouri only
enough mulch is used to cover the plant.
Aside from the obvious advantages
of fall planting-more time and better weather
for the gardener-there are some other findings
regarding the plant’s growth that make fall planting
of strawberries seem desirable. It has been found
that fall-set plants have often produced several
times as many runners by the next summer as spring
set plants have produced. It has also been observed
that the earlier formed runners, made possible
by the fall planting, are far more productive
than the runners formed later.
The gardener is often advised
to prevent his plants from fruiting the first
spring by removing the flowers. This is to permit
unchecked growth of young plants and the formation
of strong runners to make a thick growth and the
highest possible yields eventually. If the plants
are set late in the fall, this advice should indeed
be followed. If a home gardener can obtain plants
to set in August or September, however, they will
become established enough that he may allow them
to produce a crop the very next June. This saves
a whole year of waiting for strawberries.
The chief disadvantage to planting
strawberries in the fall is that often plants
are not available then. Many nurseries, however,
have begun the practice of digging strawberry
plants in the spring and storing them dormant
through the summer in carefully controlled refrigerated
storage, for filling orders in the fall. So this
problem is not what it used to be.
Commercial growers, incidentally,
prefer the dormant plants because they make better
runners than plants that are transplanted before
they go dormant. The latter type tends to make
multiple crowns rather than runners. To the home
gardener who grows his strawberries in hills instead
of matted rows, this point makes little difference.
Another disadvantage to fall
planting is that, to get a worthwhile crop the
first spring, the gardener may need to put in
more plants than would normally be used in spring
planting. A third drawback is the necessity for
the heavy fall mulch.
What has been said here with
regard to the spring-bearing type may also be
said of the everbearing strawberries. Fall planting
of them is feasible as far north as Michigan,
if the gardener pays attention to fall mulching-.
With the everbearing strawberries it is best to
plant a double or triple row with plants spaced
about ten inches apart. Then keep all runners
removed to produce large plants from which berries
may be harvested during the summer and fall following
the fall planting.
Since strawberries may remain
rewardingly productive in Mid-America home gardens
for several years, it is important to choose the
best site possible,
Strawberries blossom early in
spring, so beds on low lands are more subject
to frost injury than those on more elevated sites.
Where one is willing to risk
frost injury for the sake of exceptionally early
yields, one should favor a site with southern
exposure and a light soil. Where earliness is
not so important, it is safer to choose a northern
exposure that will retard flowering and lessen
the danger from late frosts.
Choose Favorable Site
First of all, one should choose
a well-drained garden spot that has been occupied
by regularly cultivated crops for several years.
Previous cultivation reduces
to a minimum the danger from white grubs and wireworms
that can be so destructive to strawberries. It
is usually agreed that strawberries are at their
best in medium light soils with enough humus content
to give them good water holding capacity while
affording adequate drainage.
However, strawberries may also
be grown with success in soils ranging from light
sandy loams to heavy clay- and black prairie loams.
Although strawberries must enjoy
good drainage, adequate moisture content is so
important in the upper 12 inches for their shallow
root systems that any soil, particularly the lighter
soils, should be supplied with plenty of humus
material. Rotted cow manure, compost, shredded
sphagnum, granulated peat moss, sawdust and ground
corncobs are some materials that may be worked
thoroughly into the soil.
Where rotted manure is not available,
one might use instead an inch or so of granulated
peat, sawdust or ground corncobs to supplement
the natural organic content.
When sawdust, corn cobs or the
like are used either in the soil or as mulches
it is advisable to include with each bushel about
three-fourths of a pound of ammonium sulfate or
about onehalf pound of ammonium nitrate or equivalent.
This enables favorable decomposition to proceed
without drawing unduly upon soil-borne nutrients.
Strawberries are usually rather
moderate in their demand for commercial fertilizers,
particularly in garden soils that have been supporting
satisfactory growth of vegetables or flowers.
Where observation of previous
crops or actual soil tests seem to indicate the
need for more fertilizer, the bulk of it should
be put on during the time when the plants are
becoming established, but little or none should
be applied in spring while fruit production is
If manure has been worked into
an already moderately fertile soil a pound or
two of something like a 4-8-6, 5-10-5, 6-10-4
or a 4-12-4 fertilizer per hundred square feet
of bed should help to develop sturdy, potentially
productive plants; about half this much may be
adequate where manure has been used.
In Michigan we like ‘Premier’
and ‘Robinson’ among June-bearing varieties that
are reliable producers even under adverse conditions,
although ‘Dorsett’ and ‘Fairfax’ are more attractive
and far better in quality. ‘Armore’ is a highly
favored new variety and ‘Red Rich’ and ‘Superfection’
are highly favored everbearing varieties.
Plants should be unpacked, and
either planted or heeled-in as soon as received.
Plants may be killed or seriously damaged by several
hours of high temperatures.
The plant crown should be set
level with the ground surface. Plants set too
deep or too shallow may start growth but will
lack vigor and may die.
The plant roots should extend
vertically into the soil, spreading out like a
fan. The soil should be packed firmly about the
roots-so that when a leaf is grasped and Pulled
suddenly it breaks without moving the plant.
The matted-row system is most
commonly used in home gardens. Rows are spaced
three to four feet apart, and plants are set 18
to 30 inches apart in the row. Allow runners to
form a mat 15 to 18 inches wide, with plants four
to six inches apart.
The hill system is sometimes
used to obtain large berries of exceptional quality.
It requires more handwork than the matted-row
system. Space the rows two to three feet apart,
with plants 12 to 15 inches apart in the rows.
Remove the runners as they appear.
Mulch should be applied in November
as soon as the temperature has fallen to approximately
20 degrees. Mulching too early or too late may
damage plants. Plants mulched early may be injured
by warm fall days after the mulch was applied.
In cases where plants are mulched late, winter
injury may occur before the mulch is applied.
Use a loose organic material
such as straw, hay, or shavings, which are free
of weed and grain seed. Cover the plants to a
depth of two to three inches or one inch if using
Some frost protection may be
obtained by leaving the mulch over the plants
as late as possible in the spring. Examine the
bed every few days during warm weather. Remove
only a portion of the mulch when the leaves turn
a faint yellowish -green. If the mulch is loose
and thin, the plants will grow up through it.