The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 21, 2014

Market Corner: Step-by-step strawberry patch

Ever thought about growing strawberries and wondered, "How much work are they?"

There are tasks that need to be done each season. But the rewards can be very sweet. Start small — a family of up to four people should start with 25 plants. A well-cared for patch generally lasts 4-6 years. Here is a step-by-step plan for June strawberries:

1. The year you plant them is your establishment year. All flowers/berries should be removed the first year to allow the mother plant to develop.

2. Water 1-2 inches per week (factor in any rain).

3. When runners develop, scoot them into a row and plant, leaving them attached. Give the plants plenty of space, 12-18 inches between mother plants and at least 2 feet between the rows. They will fill in quickly.

4. After planting your patch, place a thick layer of straw around the base of the plants. Be sure to cultivate and weed around the plants before laying down the straw.

5. Fertilize if needed, but stop by early August. You may not need any the first year.

6. By mid-August, mow down your plants with a lawn mower at the highest setting, do not mow off the crown, just the old foliage. Mowing rejuvenates the plants. Do not mow later than mid-August, as the plants will by then have started to set the buds for the following year.

7. Cover plants completely with 6-12 inches of straw in November, after the ground is staying frozen.

8. When it begins to warm up in April, start to remove the straw in two or three stages over 5-10 days, gradually introducing the plants back to the sun. If you have new growth developing and remove all the straw at once, a sunny day could easily scorch the new plant tissue.

9. When removing straw, leave it piled around the plants and the walk paths. In case of late frost, try to cover them up with the straw you left handy. Frost can result in black spots on the flowers leading to misshapen fruits.

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