Managing Your Planting

Watering. Because of their shallow root systems, keeping strawberries well watered is extremely important. There is a tendency to overfertilize strawberries when actually a lack of water is holding back yields.

Strawberry plants need about i inch of water each week, either by rainfall or Don't irrigation. Avoid watering in the very early morning or late evening so the overfertilize or plants are not wet for long periods.

underwater your When overnight frost threatens blooming plants, cover them with row cov-strawberries. ers or use sprinklers to deliver a fine mist over the planting. Ice that forms

_ on the plants actually prevents the flowers from freezing. Apply the mist continually from the time the temperature falls below 34 degrees F until the ice melts in the morning.

Weed control. Remove weeds by cultivation, hand hoeing, or pulling. The most important time to keep the strawberry planting weed-free is the first few months after planting while the plants are sending out runners and new plants are getting established. Do a good job of soil preparation and weeding early and you will have fewer weed problems later. Few herbicide options are available to home gardeners. Consult your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for specific recommendations.

Mulching. In the fall cover your strawberry plants with mulch to prevent injury from low temperatures. Mulching is particularly important on clay soils or those that remain wet for much of the year. Clean straw is traditionally the mulch of choice (avoid mulches that might contain weed seeds, such as hay). Apply mulch when nighttime temperatures approach 20 degrees F, covering the plants 2 inches deep.

Remove the mulch in early spring—around the end of March to mid-April, after the threat of severely cold weather has passed. Strawberries are evergreen. The plants that have overwintered will have green leaves, and they will begin photosynthesizing when you remove the mulch and expose them to the sun. Place the mulch between the rows to help smother weeds and to keep mud from splashing onto the fruit.

If you remove mulch early, you can cover plants with a floating row cover to provide additional protection and encourage early growth. Plants will flower and set fruit earlier. But use caution in areas prone to late spring frosts that could kill the flower buds. (If you lose the first flowers to frost, fruits from later flowers usually compensate.) Remove row covers before flowers appear so that insects can pollinate them. This also reduces the chance of Botrytis fungus causing fruit rot.

In the Northeast strawberries typically flower in May and produce fruit in early June through early July (depending on the cultivar and weather). Watch the flowers for signs of insect damage, particularly by tarnished plant bugs. Fruits ripen about 30 days after the flowers open.

Renovation and fertilization. Renovate your strawberries immediately after harvesting to help reduce disease, stimulate vigorous new growth, and pro- After harvest, mow long the life of your planting. Mow or clip the plants to a height of 3 inches. or clip plants to 3

If you can, collect your clippings in the mower bag or rake them off and inches tall -< -< -11111- inches talla remove them to the compost pile to help reduce disease. _

Rototill the area between the rows to incorporate the mulch. While you are tilling, reduce the width of matted rows to about 12 inches. Rake or hoe soil from the alleyways to cover the plants left in the row to about 1 inch deep.

While renovating, fertilize at a rate of 5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 feet of row. Never fertilize with nitrogen before harvest because this increases fruit mold. (The one exception is fertilizing at planting, but you remove flowers during the planting season when you use the matted-row system so there is no harvest that year.) For more efficient fertilizer use, apply about two-thirds of that rate at renovation and one-third in September.

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