Growing Methods

There are several different systems that you can use to grow strawberries. You should decide which is best for you before ordering plants.

The matted-row system is the easiest to maintain. Set plants 12 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 48 inches apart. Pluck off the flowers the first season to encourage vegetative growth. The plants will produce side stems with daughter plants called runners. Ideally, you want about six to eight runners per plant. Your goal is for the runners to fill out a strip about 12 to 15 inches wide (18 inches at the most). If you set the plants closer than 12 inches at planting, you'll have too many runners and the planting will be too crowded. You'll have to either spend more time thinning the plants or settle for lower yields from the overcrowded plants and possibly more risk of disease.

Harvest fruit from these 12- to 15-inch-wide rows in subsequent years. The planting will be most productive on the edges. Rows any wider are harder to weed and harvest, and the plants are at greater risk of disease.

Use a rototiller or hoe to remove plants that stray into the area between the rows. Within the rows, you want to keep the soil covered with plants, but you don't want them to be too crowded—no less than about 6 inches apart. Clip off runners to keep the plants from getting too crowded. Clipping runners is hard work, but it increases fruit size, decreases rotting, and makes harvest easier.

With most plantings, you can expect about three years of harvests before the stand declines seriously. As the planting ages, weeds will become more difficult to control, and diseases often become more of a problem. At some point, you'll want to start over at a new location. You may be tempted to use runners from your existing planting. But it's usually best to purchase new, disease-free planting stock. Otherwise, you will just move any disease problems right into your new planting.

Keep topsoil covered with plants, but avoid overcrowding.

The ribbon-row system is more labor intensive and requires purchasing more plants, but it produces fruit the first year. Space the plants just 4 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. Do not remove flowers, and clip all runners. Plants managed this way are very productive and produce large berries. Continue harvesting berries for about three years or until productivity declines.

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