Strawberry – an all American fruit with international heritage and appeal.
This special berry deserves recognition for sparking our memory with its sweet flavor and aroma, sending us back to a time spent at a u-pick farm or playing in the garden with our grandparents.
The History of Strawberries
Various species of wild strawberry occur widely, from alpine to beach environments in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Everywhere they are native, they have been consumed and enjoyed by the inhabitants for thousands of years; but the concept of selecting and breeding berries for agriculture is a relatively recent development.
In Europe from about the 1300s to the 1500s, wood strawberries were increasingly transplanted from the wild into gardens, propagated by runners. Strawberry culture in Europe advanced in the 17th century with the introduction of a new species of wild strawberry from the New World, the Virginia Strawberry, which rapidly became the preferred berry for planting – but there was still little to no selection or improvement to the plants, simply a change of venue.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Amedee-Francois Frezier was the man who took the next step in strawberry development. Neither a botanist nor a horticulturist, M. Frezier had a broad education including some sciences – his first major work was writing a treatise on the non-military applications of pyrotechnics or “fireworks” for entertainment, and his career was serving in the French military. But his family name and title was derived from the French word for strawberry (apparently owing to a timely gift of ripe berries from a distant ancestor to King Charles the Simple several hundred years before), and his ancestral coat-of -arms featured a cluster of three strawberries with stalks.
Amedee-Francois was a military engineer who, while on a spying mission to Spanish controlled Chile in the early 1700s in the guise of a merchant and naturalist, collected and described five plants of the Beach Strawberry, a species of wild strawberry native up and down the west coast of North and South America and long cultivated by the indigenous peoples there, and brought them back to France.
In Europe, these Beach Strawberries grew vigorously and flowered profusely, but refused to set fruit. Several years later another Frenchman, the noted botanist Antoine Nicolas Duchesne, was studying the breeding of strawberries and first realized that the Chilean strawberry flowers, though they looked like normal hermaphroditic blooms, were functionally all only female. He successfully crossed them with male plants of the Virginia Strawberry, and thus produced the modern commercial strawberry.
The cross-breeding of the two main American strawberry species, the Virginia Strawberry and the Beach Strawberry, took place in France rather than America, and continued selection and breeding in Europe and elsewhere produced plants far superior in quality and productivity than any earlier types of strawberry. It didn’t take long for this new crop to take off, and today commercial strawberries are produced and enjoyed all over the world.
Strawberries are among the easiest berries to grow at home, and take much less effort and space than other fruits to have a decent yield.
Though the earliest strawberry harvests are more than 2 months away, right now might seem an odd time to be celebrating these sweet edibles, however late February through March is an excellent time to plant strawberries while they are available as bare root crowns.
Strawberry plants perform best in raised beds growing in rich soil amended with organic matter. There are a handful of amendments you could choose, but we recommend amending strawberry beds with any combination of these soil blends: G&B Organics Soil Building Conditioner, Harvest Supreme, Purely Compost, or the SeaCoast Compost.
Strawberries should be planted about a foot apart and planted to a depth that the crown is exposed – never bury the crown. Plants can be planted somewhat closer in pots or planters. Spread the roots out when planting, and try to avoid curling roots in the planting hole. If the roots are longer than 6 inches, then trim off the lower inch of roots or any dead or dried roots to encourage root system development.
Varieties & Production
Day-neutral varieties are preferred by many home gardeners as they will produce a nearly continuous yield of tasty treats throughout the warm season, from as early as May to as late as October.
If you are looking for a concentrated harvest for jam making or freezing, June-crop varieties yield as much or more total weight of berries. Their production is concentrated into a 5-6 week cycle from June through early July, but will not produce the first year.
Under ideal conditions, yields can be 1 to 2 pounds of fruit per plant. All types of strawberries will be in full production the 2nd year, and generally productive for 2 to 5 years in the ground.
Should You Pinch Off Flowers Buds on Newly Planted Plants?
Short answer: Only if the strawberry variety is day-neutral or everbearing.
According to the OSU Extension Service, June-bearers produce little to no fruit in the season that they are planted, so no flower pruning is necessary. Everbearers and day-neutrals will form flowers buds after planting and can produce fruit in the planting year. By removing the first flower stems that emerge from these plants, it will ensure that more energy is put toward growing stronger roots, crown and leaves.
When spring growth starts to push through in spring use a balanced all-purpose fertilizer according to package instructions.
Runners can be removed or placed into a bed to root there. Remove crowns that are 3 years or older. Remove dead foliage at the end of the year to prevent diseases.
Pests and Diseases
Strawberries are prone to viral and fungal infections. Viruses are usually transferred via aphids so be sure to keep aphids in check. Fungal problems can generally be avoided with good drainage and proper spacing. In addition removing old dead leaves from the area is another way to prevent fungal diseases.
It is the peak of strawberry planting season now – bare root plants the best prices of the year. Celebrate National Strawberry Day by planting some in your garden or on your patio to enjoy this summer, and for summers to come.
Bare root varieties available now:
- Large fruit size and firmness is comparable to Albion
- Outstanding flavor
- Good disease resistance
- Everbearing variety
- Large, conical bright red berries
- Firm & deliciously sweet
- Grow well in containers or strawberry pots
- Day neutral – Everbearing variety
- Excellent yields of medium to large berries
- Great for fresh eating quality
- Good tolerance against fruit rot
- June bearing variety
All About Strawberries – Class Recording
Learn from Angelee Calder about the strawberry varieties that are available this year at our store, and when they’ll be ready for picking. Learn the basics on strawberry planting and care to produce the best crop this season.