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How To Grow Strawberries

Strawberries. The soil most suitable for the growth of this fruit is a rich, deep, adhesive loam. July or early in August is the best time to make new beds, but if the ground be not then available runners from the old plants may be planted in peat on a north border and lifted with good balls of earth to their permanent bed in the spring.

Set them firmly in rows 2 ft. apart and 18 in. from plant to plant. Spread out the roots and avoid deep planting. Remove from the old plants all runners not required for new beds before they take root, as they exhaust the crown. In dry seasons liquid manure is highly beneficial. Some growers give supports to the fruit by means of forked-shaped pegs, while others lay straw down to keep the fruit free from grit. Keep a sharp look-out for snails and slugs.

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Growing Strawberry

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Probably the first thought will be that the Strawberry is a fruit, andthat the consideration of its treatment is out of place in a series ofarticles on the culture of vegetables. The answer is that the plantforms an essential feature in every good Kitchen Garden, and the generalroutine of work has to be arranged with due regard to this crop, so thatwe need make no apology for alluding to it here.

When to Plant Strawberries

The Strawberry is the most certain of all our hardy fruits, and is much valued both for eating fresh as a summer luxury and as a preserve for winter use. Although it deserves the best of cultivation, its demands are few, for under the poorest system of management it is often extremely prolific, and not unseldom the most profitable crop in the garden. We have choice of seeds, divisions, and runners in making a plantation of Strawberries.

The universal way is the best way, and it consists in planting rooted runners of named sorts in an open sunny spot in well-prepared ground any time during spring or autumn, when fresh and good runners are obtainable; but late planting is undesirable, for when the plants have not time to establish themselves before winter sets in many are lost.

If, therefore, the planting cannot be accomplished at the latest by the beginning of October, it is better to defer the task until the spring. Plants put in at the latter time should have the flower-stems removed, and will then yield a heavy crop in the succeeding season.

Soil Preparation

The best soil for Strawberries is a rich, moist, sandy loam, but a heavy soil will answer perfectly if it is well prepared. The ground should be trenched and liberally enriched with rotten manure placed between the top and bottom spits, where the plants will reach it when they are most in need. In a new soil that is rather stiff it will be advisable, when the trenching has been completed, to put down the line and cut shallow trenches, which should be filled with any rather fine kindly stuff that may be at hand, such as old hot-bed soil, leaf-mould, or a mixture of material turned out of pots, with some good decayed manure.

In this the young plants will root freely and quickly without becoming gross, for they should attain a certain degree of vigour; but an excessive leaf growth may result in losses during winter, and a small crop of fruit in the following year. Well-cultivated soils need no such special preparation, but in any case a good digging and a liberal manuring are absolutely necessary. And here it may be well to state that after the plants have obtained a firm hold on the soil it matters not how hard the ground becomes.

The practice of some growers in running a plough lightly between the rows either for a mulch, or to give the plants the full benefit of rain, does not in the least degree upset this conclusion, for this only creates a loose and friable surface, and the operation is so managed that the soil near the roots remains undisturbed. It may be accepted as a secret of successful Strawberry culture that the bed should be firm and compact, and, in forcing, this principle is so far recognised that the soil is positively rammed into the pots.

Method of Planting Strawberries

If Strawberry plants come to hand somewhat dry, unpack them quickly, and spread them in small lots in a cool shady place, and sprinkle lightly with water to refresh them. A deluge of water is not needed, and in fact will do harm, but enough to moisten them will put them in a condition to begin growing as soon as they are properly located. In planting, a little extra care in the disposition of the roots in the soil will be well repaid, for plants merely thrust into the ground cannot develop that robust root growth on which the future of the crop largely depends.

When preparing the positions it is an excellent plan to build in the centre of each excavation a mound of earth over which to spread the fibrous roots. Then return the soil and firmly tread down. As a finish give each plant a copious watering. On no account should the plant be deeply buried, but the crown should be left just clear of the surface level. The distances in planting will have to be determined by the relative vigour of the varieties and the nature of the ground.

As a rule the rows should be two feet apart, and the plants eighteen inches in the rows, but some varieties require fully two and a half feet between the rows. It is good practice to leave a three-feet space between every two rows for necessary traffic.

A modification of the plan consists in planting a foot apart each way; and immediately the first crop of fruit is off every alternate row is removed, and then every alternate plant in each row is also taken out. This places the remainder at two feet every way. The ground is then lightly forked and a heavy coat of manure put on.

General Management

Comprises keeping down weeds, supplying water abundantly in dry weather, especially when the berries are swelling, and removing runners as fast as they appear, for to allow them to get ahead is most injurious, and any serious neglect of this rule is likely to ruin the plantation. The Strawberry plant makes no proper return on a dry lumpy soil. Large plantations that cannot be watered must be aided in the height of the season by covering the ground with any light material which will prevent evaporation. As to obtaining runners, that is easy enough, but there is a good way and a bad way.

To allow them to spread and root promiscuously is the bad way; it injures the plants, makes the bed disorderly, and does not produce good runners. At the time when runners begin to push, dig and manure the surrounding spaces, and allow a certain number of runners to come out from each side of the rows. As they approach maturity and are disposed to make roots, lay tiles or stones upon the runners near to the young plants to favour the process, but a neater way will be to peg them down. Or they may be fixed by short pegs in small pots, filled with light rich earth and plunged in the soil.

To keep the crop clean many plans are adopted, and the plant probably takes its name from the old custom of covering the ground with straw for the purpose. The cultivator must be left to his own devices, because of the difficulty in many places of obtaining suitable material. But we must warn the beginner in Strawberry culture against grass mowings as more or less objectionable.

They sometimes answer perfectly, and at other times they encourage slugs and snails to spoil the crop, and if partially rotted by wet weather communicate to the fruit a bad flavour. There is a very simple means of feeding the crop and making a clean bed for the fruit. It consists in putting on a good coat of long, strong manure in February, and in doing this it is no great harm if the plants are in some degree covered.

They will soon push up and show themselves, and by the time the fruit appears the straw will be washed clean, and the crop being thus aided will be a great one, weather permitting. As regards cutting off the leaves, we advise the removal of old large leaves as soon as the crop is gathered. But this should be done with a knife; to use a scythe amongst Strawberries is to ruin the plantation. The object of removing old leaves is to admit light and air to the young leaves, for on the free growth of these the formation of good crowns for the next year's use depends. By encouraging the young leaves to grow, root action is promoted, and the embryo buds are formed that will, in the next summer, develop into Strawberries.

Some gardeners recommend the removal of the Strawberry plantation everythree years. It is a better plan to make a small plantation annually,and at the same time destroy an old plantation that has served its turn.But we are bound to say that Strawberry plantations, well made and wellkept, will often last and prove profitable for six or even more years.But this will never be the case where there is a stint of manure orwater, or where the runners are allowed to run in their own way to makea Strawberry mat and a jam of the wrong sort. The Strawberry fancierdoes not wish to keep a plantation any great length of time, and he mustplant annually to taste the new sorts. This to many people is one of thechief delights of the garden, and it certainly has its attractions.

Forced Strawberries

The high price realised on the market for the earliest supply of forced Strawberries is a sufficient proof that society is prepared to pay handsomely for this refreshing luxury. As the season advances and competition becomes keen the figure rapidly declines, but 'Strawberries at a guinea an ounce' has more than once appeared as a sensational head-line in the daily press.

The fruiting of Strawberries in pots is part of the annual routine ofnearly all large establishments, but even with the most perfectappliances it must be admitted that to produce berries which winappreciation for their size, colour, and flavour demands both skill andpatience, especially patience.

Strong well-rooted plants are essential to success, and no troubleshould be spared to secure them from robust free-fruiting stocks. Theearliest runners must either be layered on square pieces of mellow turfor over thumb pots filled with a good rich compost. When the runners arefairly rooted in the layers of turf or the thumb pots they should betransferred to pots of the fruiting size. No. 32 is generally used forthe purpose. After the pots have been crocked some growers add a layerof half-inch bones, which aid the plants and insure free drainage. Themost satisfactory soil is a rich fibrous loam, with the addition ofone-fourth of well-rotted manure and a small proportion of sand, and thecompost must be well firmed into the pots with the ramming stick.

The best place to keep the plants is an open airy situation, easilyaccessible, where the pots can stand on a bed of ashes. On the approachof frost they can be transferred to a cold frame, keeping them close tothe glass, or they may be plunged in ashes in some sheltered position.

When the time arrives for forcing, it is usual to commence by plungingthe pots in a bed of warm leaves or in a mild half-spent hot-bed.Immediately the plants show sign of blooming they must be shifted towarmer quarters. A shelf at the back of an early vinery or Peach-house,quite near the glass, is a suitable position. The temperature atstarting should be 55° Fahr., rising gradually to 60° by the time theleafage is thoroughly developed.

The appearance of the flower trusses is a critical period. Liquid manureshould then be given freely, and at the same time the plants must haveabundance of light and a warm dry atmosphere. The blossoms need to beartificially fertilised with a camel's-hair pencil, choosing midday asthe best time for this operation.

When the crop has set it must be thinned to about nine berries on eachplant, and in due time the fruits should have the support of forkedsticks. Care will be necessary to prevent injury to the stalks, or theflow of sap to the berries may be arrested. Syringe twice a day in dryweather; and on the first show of colour discontinue the manure-waterand use pure soft water only. At this stage a night temperature of 65°must be maintained, giving all the air and light possible.

More failures in the pot culture of Strawberries are attributable toneglect in watering than to any other cause. The soil must never beallowed to become dry. Should the leaves once droop they seldom recover.At least twice a day the plants will need attention, and it is importantthat the water should be of the same temperature as the atmosphere.Always leave the cans full in readiness for the next visit.

Alpine Strawberries

Largely grown in France, probably more so than the large-fruited varieties which are popular in this country. The best method is to sow the seeds in January, in pans filled with a light rich compost and placed in a gentle heat. Prick out the plants on to a bed of light soil in a frame, or on a nearly exhausted hot-bed, whence they should be taken to the open ground. From these sowings fine fruits may usually be gathered in the following September. Seeds may also be sown outdoors in spring or in September in shallow drills, six inches apart, on a bed of light soil. Transplant in due course for fruiting in the succeeding Strawberry season. When a full crop has been gathered the plants should be destroyed, a succession being kept up by sowing annually. By slowly growing the plants from spring-sown seeds and potting in autumn, it is not a difficult matter to have Alpines in fruit under glass at Christmas.