Plant Strawberries this Fall

Plant Strawberries this Fall

by K Walker

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.


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