Growing Strawberries in Alberta
I remember when I was a child, touring a strawberry U-pick place and eating my first taste of that big, juicy, fresh garden-grown strawberry. Let me tell you, store-bought strawberries didn't hold a candle to the punch of sweet flavour that fresh strawberry had!
I have found growing strawberries in Alberta to be so rewarding! It is the first of my garden fruits to ripen in the spring. Seeing my kids excitement over finding a ripe strawberry warms my heart. Whether you are growing strawberries just to eat fresh or growing them for jam, or you wish to growing for both of those purposes, let me share with you a few tips for growing a successful strawberry patch!
Choosing a Location for your Strawberry Patch
Chose a sunny location with a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight for your strawberry patch. Strawberry plants enjoy warmth and grow best in nutrient-dense, well drained soil. Add compost to your soil prior to planting your strawberries. For more tips on soil read How to Improve your Garden Soil.
Choosing A Strawberry Variety
There are 3 main varieties of strawberries, June Bearing, Ever Bearing and Day Neutral strawberries. You will want to determine what variety of you want to grow in your strawberry patch before heading out shopping.
June Bearing Strawberries - June Bearing Strawberries produce one large crop of strawberries in late spring or early summer. June Bearing strawberries tend to produce larger berries than other varieties. These plants send out lots of runners. These are a great choice if you are growing strawberries for preserving! Varieties that grow well in zone 3 Alberta include Kent, Honeoye, Bounty, Cavendish, Cabot and Clooscap.
Ever Bearing Strawberries - Ever Bearing strawberries produce two crops of strawberries, one in early summer and another in early fall (the name is misleading in that they don't produce continuously). Ever Bearing strawberry plants tend to be more compact than June Bearing and send out less runners. Because they are more compact they work well for growing in pots or containers. Ever bearing strawberries are a great choice if you are wanting them just for eating fresh. Varieties to grow in Alberta include Fort Laramie and Ogallala.
Day Neutral Strawberries - Day Neutral strawberries produce fruit continuously through the growing season without taking a break like Ever Bearing strawberries. Day Neutral strawberries are another great choice if you are wanting strawberries just for eating fresh. Varieties for zone 3 include Tristar, San Andreas, Seascape, Albion and Fern.
Planting Your Strawberries
The ideal time to plant strawberries in zone 2/3 Alberta ranges from the end of April to the end of May. Strawberry plants grow best in hills or rows. Form a mound and plant your strawberry plant so the crown (The hard, thick part of the plant where the roots and leaves meet) is just above the surface of the soil. Pat down the soil so that when you water, this crown is not pushed below the surface. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart.
Strawberries benefit from mulching with straw. I suggest straw vs. other types of mulch because it helps retain soil moisture and at the same time, dries out quickly, keeping your strawberries from sitting directly on the soil and rotting. It also helps to keep slugs and pill bugs off your strawberries. Another option is adding black plastic to your strawberry row, cutting holes in it for each plant.
Encouraging Strawberry fruit Production
Pinch the blossoms off your strawberry plants for the first month so that they put their energy into root growth instead of fruit growth, establishing stronger plants. Snip off runners to encourage better fruit growth. I like to plant or give away my runners. If you would like to enlarge your strawberry patch, planting the strawberry runners is a great way to do so! Strawberry plants decrease in fruit production after year 3. Remove older plants when they are 4 to 5 years old. Replace with young plants from your runners.
Strawberry plants benefit from fertilizer tea and/or new compost each spring to feed the plants.
Keep your strawberry plants well watered, especially while they are setting fruit. Water at the base of the plant, avoiding wet leaves to avoid causing mold on leaves and fruit.
Harvesting your Strawberries
Strawberries do not continue to ripen once picked. Once the strawberry is red all the way up to the stem of the berry it is time to pick (if you can keep your kids away from it until then!). Pull gently or snip from the plant. For longer storage, store berries in the fridge.
Keeping Pests Away from Strawberries
Slugs and birds are likely problems you will face with your strawberry plants. Mulching with straw, beer traps or Slug-B-Gone are ways to keep slugs away from your strawberries.
Use decoy rocks or netting to keep birds off your strawberries. I have had fun painting decoy rocks with my kids and feel I have about a 85% success rate of keeping birds away from strawberries with these. The key is placing your decoy rocks out early in the year. The idea with them being that birds learn the bright red objects in that location are not good for food and leave strawberries alone once they begin to redden.
June Bearing strawberry plants should be trimmed back at the end of fruit production. Do not cut back Everbearing or Day Neutral strawberries in the fall unless you notice the plant has died back. Often they stay green right until winter. If this is the case it is best to leave them unpruned. Cover your strawberry plants with a 4 to 6 inch layer of mulch or compost before your first heavy frost, to protect the plants. If you have strawberry plants in a pot or container you can overwinter them in a cool garage. If left outdoors when not protected by the ground, they will freeze and die. Another option is to transplant into the ground prior to your first hard frost.
Strawberry Companion Plants
Plant strawberries alongside onions (onions help keep mold away), rhubarb, lettuce, marigolds, chives, sage, spinach, beans, garlic, peas, borage, cilantro, asparagus and thyme. Avoid planting near kohlrabi, brassicas or fennel.
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