Garden Variety: Start planting strawberries now to be ready for a sweet summer
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Strawberries are known and favored for their unique, sweet red fruit that begins to ripen as spring transitions into summer. Although they can be found year-round in the grocery store, the quality and flavor of in-season vine-ripened fruit far surpasses other strawberries. To try growing them in a home garden here in northeast Kansas, the best time to plant is now (March-April). Plan to give them vigilant care throughout the season for best success.
Strawberry plants are available at some local garden centers in the spring, by mail order and online. Use reputable dealers, and if buying in-person, select only healthy plants. Strawberries are susceptible to insect and disease pests that they could potentially bring with them.
What type of strawberries to plant and where to plant them go hand-in-hand. There are three classifications — spring-bearing, everbearing and day-neutral — and named varieties of each type. Plants need at least six hours of sunlight per day for good fruit production and grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. Spring-bearing plants typically perform best planted in the ground or in raised garden beds, while everbearing and day-neutral strawberry plants may perform better in containers.
Spring-bearing (also called June-bearing) strawberry plants produce the largest fruit and will produce about the same amount of fruit in a few weeks that an everbearing plant will produce over the course of the entire season. These traditional varieties are further classified as early, mid-season and late season varieties, but all produce over a short period of time in May and early June.
With everbearing strawberries, plants typically bloom and produce fruit three times from spring to fall. Again, the amount of fruit produced by everbearing strawberries over the course of the year is about the same as that produce by spring bearing strawberries in a few short weeks. Fruit is also generally smaller than that produced by spring bearing plants.
Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the season, but like everbearing strawberries, production is spread out over the course of the season and tends to smaller than fruit produced by spring bearing plants.
Earliglow, Honeoye, Jewel, Lateglow, Sparkle and Surecrop are a few examples of spring bearing varieties recommended for this area. Tristar and Tribute are recommended day-neutral varieties.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.