Bring on the berry best of summer
If you want lots of sweet juicy berries for summer, plant strawberries now. Buy packs of six plants from your garden centre or check your own plants for runners that have rooted. These may be lifted, cut from the parent and replanted. It’s a good idea to remove runners from parent plants anyway as these compete with fruit production. You may also grow strawberries by seed but no-one tends to bother. Most strawberry plants these days are hybrids which means the plants they produce from seed won’t look or taste anything like the parent plant. The exception is the alpine strawberry. Everything about these plants resembles the strawberries we buy in garden centres, though the fruit is somewhat smaller and either red or white (less attractive to birds). Alpine strawberries are also everbearing. They fruit most of the year, particularly in warm, frostfree areas. Alpine strawberries do not produce runners but do grow true from seed. Check catalogues or on Trade Me. Seedlings are also
If you want strawberries for summer, now is the time to plant them. available at garden centres from time to time. You only need one or two plants because once you have them, they often self-seed. Or you can divide and reset plants in spring. Seeds from alpine strawberries need a cold period to break down the chemical germination inhibitors inside the seeds. That means you can either sow your seed in the garden in autumn where they will go through the necessary cold period over winter or sow in spring after a four-week chilling period in the freezer. If sowing outdoors in autumn, it might be best to sow in containers, as plants may get lost among other plants or weeds, or inadvertently weeded out when still young. While alpine strawberries grow in sun or partial shade, common strawberries are best grown in full sun. Although some varieties are simply sweeter than other varieties, the more sun (and the more compost for that matter), the sweeter the fruit. Soil should be free-draining with loads of organic matter dug in. Compost, well-rotted manure, leaf mould and worm castings are all beneficial. If your soil is prone to waterlogging, plant on mounds, in raised beds or in containers. I often grow my strawberries in hanging baskets. Use a good quality potting mix with a little compost and slow-release fertiliser added. Cover your soil with some sort of mulch, like straw, bark, pine needles, even newspaper, to help suppress weeds and to keep the fruit from touching the soil and rotting. If your berries begin to rot, you may find yourself with a proliferation of slaters. Feed plants occasionally with a tomato fertiliser and make sure you water well, especially during fruit development.