The Mail on Sunday
How to get strawberry yields for ever!
NOTHING compares to the taste of homegrown strawberries ripened to perfection in the sun. They have a superior flavour, texture and appearance to anything sold in supermarkets. They’re easy to grow, and now is the time to get planting to enjoy a delicious crop of this summer.
Pot-grown plants are widely available from garden centres and nurseries. Another option is to order bare-rooted runners from a mail- order nursery. They might look a little sad but these young plants have been stored in cold conditions and will grow quickly, often producing fruit within 60 days.
There are scores of varieties, split into two groups based on when the berries appear. Summer fruiting ones tend to have a single, heavy flush of fruit over two to three weeks, at some point from late May to the end of August – varieties are usually described as early, mid or late season.
The other group is known as everbearers or perpetual strawberries. These produce their first berries in June and continue to fruit on and off lightly into autumn. Their fruits tend to be smaller and yields less abundant, but they are useful for extending the growing season.
‘Cambridge Favourite’, ‘Honeoye’ and ‘Marshmello’ are among the best summer fruiters, while ‘Mara des Bois’, ‘Aromel’ and ‘Just Add Cream’ are great everbearers.
The latter is unusual as its fruits are borne from pretty pink flowers, rather than from the usual white blooms.
Strawberry plants prefer a sunny spot with well-drained, fertile soil. Work in plenty of garden compost or well- rotted manure, then dig holes 18in apart, with 3ft between rows.
When planting pot-grown plants, make sure the top of the rootball is level with the surface. Finish by f e e di ng with general purpose fertiliser.
Prepare the soil in exactly the s a me way when planting bare- rooted runners but excavate a fairly narrow hole that’s the same depth as the length of the roots and twice as wide.
Pop in a runner, spread out the roots and backfill the hole with soil. Make sure the base of the crown is level with the surface, not deeper or higher. Another option is to raise them in containers. A single plant is perfect i n an 8in pot filled with multi- purpose compost, while four will provide plenty of pickings from a 15in hanging basket. I’ve had great success from raising strawberry plants in growing bags, spacing three to four down each side. For a bumper crop, water plants regularly, especially during dry spells, and feed every two weeks with a high-potash fertiliser (liquid tomato fertiliser is ideal). If your garden is overrun with slugs and snails, take measures to prevent fruit being nibbled, and cover with bird netting to thwart hungry blackbirds.
As strawberries are perishable, they are best eaten straight from the plant, while still warm from the sun. You can store fruit for a few days in the fridge but don’t wash them beforehand, as damp berries will go mouldy quickly.
If you are lucky enough to have a glut, freeze fruit once hulled.
To encourage strong growth for next year’s crop, prune plants once the last fruit has been picked. Simply cut back to leave a 2in cluster of foliage at the centre and feed with general-purpose fertiliser. Prune plants again in late winter, removing tatty leaves.
Search at s t ockists s uch as Pomona Fruits ( pomonafruits. co.uk) and Chris Bowers & Sons (chrisbowers.co.uk).