Time to Plant Strawberries

Ever wonder why strawberries show up in the store before they are ready in your garden?  Dr. Barclay Poling explains the techniques professionals use and how you can apply their strategies to your home garden.  Start now and follow his advice and you can have strawberries from your garden by Mother’s Day next year. 






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JENKINS:  We conduct our Master Gardener training program every two years.  And we are fortunate to be able to tap into the experts at  NC State University and the Cooperative Extension Service to teach our classes.
POLING: My name is Barclay Poling and I’m professor emeritus of NC State and former small fruit specialist with the dept of horticulture science.
JENKINS: Dr. Poling has been instrumental in developing new approaches for raising strawberries in our region.  His work has helped propel North Carolina to the top ranks of strawberry production in the country.  I wanted to know if the approach he developed could be translated to my back yard garden.  So I asked him how I should get started.
POLING:  I would begin to look at the larger commercial growers as an example of what can be done.  Today they’ve taken strawberries which used to be a matted row type production system.  They would grow as a perennial, which means over multiple years.   And the growers for over twenty years have treated strawberries as an annual crop.  Meaning they plant them in the fall, fruit them the following spring and then they are out of strawberries come summer time.  They are doing other things.  But there’s no more maintenance during the summer season managing weeds, disease and the like.  Its too hot. Its too difficult for labor.  And they love the annual growing system where you set the crop in the fall, pick it in the spring. And you’re done with it.
JENKINS: How do I set up my beds for strawberries.  It sounds like your approach is different from what I’ve typically done.
POLING: There’s some work to be done for a strawberry production situation.  I would recommend in the late summer you consider some good roto-tillage of the soil, and think about making a slightly raised bed that I would cover with a black plastic mulch and get good contact between the plastic mulch and the soil.  You don’t want a lot of air spaces beneath the plastic because that will make the soil very cold.  The black plastic has to be in intimate contact with the soil to get some real warming on the sunny days in the fall.  If you do that you get this remarkable plant growth.  Especially root growth beneath the plastic that you don’t see.  But I can assure you that if you make a raised bed the roots will actually occupy the entire area come Christmas time.  You’ll see an amazing root system develop under that condition.  And that supports a very high fruiting potential the following spring.  You’ll also realize another benefit.  You’ll be about two weeks earlier than what I call the bear ground matted row system.  So in changing over to this fall planted system with plastic mulch, raised beds you also get into an earlier cropping period in the spring.  The draw back to that is, although there aren’t many, is the one big one is frost.  And you will come into more frost hazards with the earlier season.  So we have some ideas to help you out on that as well.  But the growers here have learned to use different types of cold protection technologies.  The best one are using these big blankets, or we call row covers, that are made of a spun-bonded polyester material.  Plastic resin actually,  Its used, its manufactured.  It looks like a giant cheese cloth.  We lay these out on the crop prior to a hazardous weather event, such as we might experience in the late winter or early spring, where temps are going to be below freezing.  During the bloom stage for strawberries that could be very damaging.  So all that good effort can be wasted in one night.  So we put the covers over the top of the crop to try to trap the ground heat and keep the bloom above a critical freezing point temperature.  If you get past those cold events successfully then you are going to be seeing berries late April or early May.  So you’ll have some wonderful fruit, certainly by Mother’s Day with that system.
JENKINS: I’m going to get busy with these beds and I’ll let you know if we are enjoying strawberries by Mother’s Day at our house next year.  I’m Lise Jenkins and I’m an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and I’m in Durham county.

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