Peter Cun­dall:

Gar­den­ing guru PETER CUN­DALL of­fers his tried and true tips for grow­ing won­der­fully sweet, aro­matic and pro­duc­tive straw­ber­ries in your own back­yard.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - CONTENTS - with Peter Cun­dall

Tips for grow­ing the berry best sum­mer fruit

Straw­berry plants take up lit­tle space, so can be grown to per­fec­tion in any sunny part of the open gar­den

NEW, pot­ted-up straw­berry plants are on sale at most gar­den cen­tres. They are more ex­pen­sive than the bare-rooted run­ners avail­able in win­ter, but are ex­cel­lent value.

Straw­ber­ries must surely be the tasti­est source of vi­ta­min C. There are many va­ri­eties but those grown in cool dis­tricts, with cold win­ters are by far the tasti­est.

Most of us have in­no­cently bought those enor­mous, brightly-coloured but al­most taste­less, tropic-grown straw­ber­ries in win­ter and felt dis­ap­pointed. We can com­pen­sate to some ex­tent by grow­ing our own right now.

Straw­berry plants take up lit­tle space, so can be grown to per­fec­tion in any sunny part of the open gar­den, or for flat dwellers, in pots, tubs, win­dow boxes and even hang­ing bas­kets.

In fact, all the straw­ber­ries most familS­traw­berry ies can eat or pre­serve can be grown in a few square me­tres of well-drained, sunny soil.

Most pro­duc­tive plants send out sev­eral run­ners dur­ing sum­mer. Those from new, cer­ti­fied, disease-free plants may be cut free and planted out as soon as they form a good root sys­tem.

Run­ners from older plants carry dis­eases, de­spite ap­pear­ing quite healthy so don’t bother us­ing them. Al­ways avoid us­ing straw­berry run­ners from other peo­ple’s gar­dens for the same rea­son.

plants grow best in acidic soils. That def­i­nitely means no lime, or even fire ashes. Any rea­son­ably-fer­tile soil in full sun suits them. Fer­til­ity is al­ways im­proved if lots of de­cayed or­ganic mat­ter, es­pe­cially de­com­posed au­tumn leaves are mixed in.

Ideal fer­tilis­ers in­clude pul­verised sheep and cow ma­nure, es­pe­cially the re­ally rot­ten stuff. The drop­pings from most graz­ing an­i­mals are mainly or­ganic mat­ter any­way but per­fect soil con­di­tion­ers.

Last year I saw some of the health­i­est, most pro­duc­tive straw­berry plants I’ve ever come across which had been grown in soil laced with biochar and the acidic, black­ened scrap­ings from be­neath an old, conifer hedge. Pro­duc­tion of won­der­fully sweet, aro­matic straw­ber­ries was enor­mous and con­tin­ued for month af­ter month over sum­mer and early au­tumn.

Most, well-sized, pot­ted-up straw­berry plants are al­ready com­ing into flower even at gar­den cen­tres. If planted out now into pre­pared ground – or pot­ted-on into larger con­tain­ers – will be­gin bear­ing small crops of tasty berries by Christ­mas or ear­lier.

As the first pale-green berries form, start spread­ing thick lay­ers of clean, slightly loose straw around the plants. This means lift­ing flower and berry trusses so the straw can be tucked un­der­neath, leav­ing the swelling berries rest­ing on top, well clear of the soil.

Straw­ber­ries ripen quickly, so need to be con­stantly picked as they be­come fully coloured. Ac­tively-grow­ing ma­ture plants grow­ing in ideal con­di­tions be­come hugely pro­duc­tive.

In beds con­tain­ing a dozen or more plants, har­vest­ing be­comes a daily op­er­a­tion. Pro­tec­tion from birds is es­sen­tial. Drive in short stakes around and be­tween plants, place a small pot up­side down on the top of each. This en­ables net­ting to be quickly stretched over an en­tire straw­berry patch with­out snag­ging af­ter each har­vest­ing op­er­a­tion.

When liq­uid ma­nure is to be ap­plied, carefully drib­ble it around the bases of the plants to avoid get­ting berries con­tam­i­nated. I place plas­tic cake cov­ers over plants for ex­tra pro­tec­tion while ap­ply­ing liq­uid ma­nures.

Keep well wa­tered through­out sum­mer ap­ply­ing liq­uid fer­tilis­ers and com­post tea ev­ery 10 days. As of­ten as pos­si­ble go over ev­ery plant to probe deeply into crowns to flip out skulk­ing slugs and snails.

It is most im­por­tant to keep beds weeded be­cause straw­berry plants are poor com­peti­tors. In well-mulched straw­berry beds, most weeds tend to form sur­face roots so are eas­ily pulled out.

Beds can rapidly be­come con­gested and these con­di­tions al­ways at­tract dis­eases and slugs. So cut away run­ners as fast as they form. Plants three years old and older are vir­tu­ally non-pro­duc­tive and these plants should be dug out now, dumped and re­placed.

In early win­ter, scape away all mulching ma­te­ri­als, run­ners and the disease and slug-in­fested de­bris of dead leaves and mouldy fruit.

Proven va­ri­eties: Sweet­heart (ex­tra sweet grown from seed); Redgaunt­let (large, fra­grant); Tioga (small, dull red, very sweet); Cam­bridge Vigour (ex­cel­lent bearer); Alinta (out­stand­ing, dark red, tasty berries); and Tor­rey (firm, well-flavoured berries).

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