I enjoy browsing the produce departments of grocery stores, especially when vegetables and fruits aren’t ready yet in our own backyard gardens.

But I must admit I’m disappointed in the quality of store-bought tomatoes and strawberries. The tomatoes taste bland and the strawberries aren’t the same as homegrown.

Strawberries grown in our own gardens are unmatched in sweetness and flavor, and they aren’t difficult to grow. A few well-cared-for strawberry plants yield surprisingly well, even if you don’t have space for a larger, traditional strawberry patch.

Where to locate

Strawberries need full, direct, all-day sunshine for peak production. If plants receive less than six hours of sunshine, foliage might grow but fruiting will be limited. Most soil is capable of growing strawberries, but heavy clay or light sand should be amended with organic material like compost or peat moss.

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Strawberries can be grown in traditional berry patches, but they’re increasingly popular in the landscape as a double-duty plant. Include them in the home’s foundation planting as a groundcover in open spaces between shrubs. Add patches of berries in the backyard perennial flower garden. Strawberries fill gaps in the landscape when shrubs are young and haven’t reached adult width.

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Buying plants

Dormant, bare-root plants are sold by some garden centers and mail-order catalogs. They might appear dry and lifeless, but they’ll show signs of growth within a week after planting and watering. Bare-root strawberries can be planted in spring as soon as soil is workable.

Garden centers also sell potted strawberry plants that are actively growing. Wait to plant them until frost is less likely, such as after mid-May.

Flowers should be removed for the first several weeks from newly planted strawberries. David Samson / The Forum
Flowers should be removed for the first several weeks from newly planted strawberries. David Samson / The Forum

Choosing types

There are many strawberry varieties on the market, and they vary by flavor, berry size, winter hardiness and harvest season. Of the differences, sweet flavor and reliable hardiness top the list for most gardeners. Flowers are pollinated by bees, and because strawberries are self-fertile, only one variety is needed for fruit production.

Strawberry varieties can be divided into three classes based on harvest season. June-bearing varieties produce one large crop from mid-June through mid-July. Everbearing varieties spread the crop between a harvest in late June and a second harvest in late summer. Day-neutral varieties spread the crop throughout most of the growing season. Which class to choose depends upon the type of harvest season you prefer, whether consolidated or spread out.

June-bearing types include Annapolis, Earliglow, Jewell, Honeoye and Cavendish. Everbearing varieties include Ft. Laramie and Ogallala. Day-neutral types that perform well include Albion, Seascape and Tristar.

Spacing

Traditional strawberry beds can be planted several ways. In the matted-row system, plants are spaced 18 inches apart within rows that are 3 feet apart. Plants produce shoots called runners that are allowed to grow and fill in the row. Keep plantlets spaced 6 inches apart, removing extras to prevent overcrowding. The matted-row should be kept about 18 inches wide.

In the hill system of growing, strawberries are spaced 12 inches apart. Runners are continually removed, so plants remain as individuals.

When used in the landscape as a groundcover, space about 12 inches apart and allow runners to remain if spreading is desired.

Planting depth

Bare-root strawberries must be planted so the crown, which is the portion of the plant between stems and root, is at soil level so roots are covered but growing points are visible above ground.

Plant potted strawberries at the same depth as they are currently growing.

Watering

Water thoroughly immediately after planting. Strawberries prefer 1 inch of moisture per week. Mulching between rows or plants conserves moisture.

Remove first flowers

Remove the flower buds of newly planted strawberries for the first several weeks so the plants devote their energy to developing roots and strong structure.

Fall care

After two or three frosts, apply 6 to 8 inches of straw over the plants for winter insulation. Remove in spring before new growth starts.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.