Best time to plant strawberries
Think ahead to your summer harvest, suggests Gareth Carter
PLANT PROPAGATION, growth, flowering and harvest times are dictated by the seasons. This makes some seasons better for planting and sometimes particular plants are only available for one part of the year. The main time for planting strawberries and garlic is now, in the run-up to the shortest day coming up in June. Garlic and elephant garlic are available now in garden centres for a limited time. Planting now they will be ready for harvest during summer. Strawberry plants can be planted for much of the year but the best results by far are from those planted during May. Strawberries would have to be the most popular berry fruit grown. They fit into any size garden, grow well in pots and containers, and are quick to give results. VARIETIES Some varieties available and do well here in Whanganui. Strawberry varieties fall into two main categories; short day varieties and day neutral varieties. The biggest difference being that the fruiting peak falls at a different time, so if you plant a mixture of these varieties you will be harvesting fruit for a longer period. I have been harvesting fruit throughout the summer with a mixture of both types of plants and harvested my last bowlful only two weeks ago in late April. The first ones were ready in October last year. Short day varieties initiate flowering when, as the name suggests, the days are short in winter and spring. Subsequently the bulk of the fruit of these varieties will start in early November, mostly finishing after Christmas. Some seasons as the days shorten in autumn flowering is also initiated and small crop may be produced. Camerosa is a short day variety. This variety is produces large, well flavoured fruit right around Christmas. It is a real winner. Another is ventana. Day neutral varieties, in contrast, will fruit any time of the year when the temperatures are warm enough for growth. These varieties tend not to have such a large flush of fruit at once but produce consistently for a longer period. Day neutral varieties include aromas, albion and cabrillo. Two top strawberry varieties camerosa will be available as bare root bundles for a very limited time. The camerosa are instore now. This is the most economical way to buy strawberry plants. Otherwise all the mentioned varieties will be available from late May or early June in pots and punnets. While strawberry plantings can be made year round, planting done in the cooler months tend to result in heavier cropping that plantings made in warmer months. If they are planted too late, i.e. closer to the longest day (December), they will tend to produce an abundance of runners instead of fruit. WHERE TO GROW There seems no limit to how and where strawberries can be grown, and they are fairly foolproof so anyone can plant them and be rewarded. They can be grown in old car tyres where the heat of the tyres hastens ripening. This method keeps the fruit off the ground and subsequently clean from soil. They can be grown in hydroponics, in glazed or terracotta pots, specialist herb / strawberry planters. They are an edible option to grow in a hanging basket or they can fit in the herb garden. Some grow them along the edge of a vegetable garden and others will dedicate a spot to mass produce their favourite berry. The biggest factor to growing good strawberries is site selection. The plants need a sunny position and a well drained soil that has good structure. When planting strawberries, improve the garden with the addition of “Tui Strawberry Mix” or “Tui Sheep Pellets”. These will work to improve soil structure and add nutrient as well as bulking up the soil can give height that will aid in good drainage. MULCHING & FEEDING Mulching the soil surface between plants will prevent weeds, maintain an even soil temperature and prevent moisture loss in summer. A mulch will also help to keep the fruit clean. Suitable mulches include straw, sawdust, pine needles, pine bark or wood shavings.