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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Early spring is best time to plant strawberries

Very full strawberry plants are ready for picking at Carver Farms in Newman Lake on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Very full strawberry plants are ready for picking at Carver Farms in Newman Lake on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

We are only two months out from strawberry season. By the middle of June, plants will be heavy with fruit begging for a bowl and some fresh cream. I can taste them already.

Strawberries are best planted in the early spring between now and the end of May. Right now, many garden centers have them in individual 4-inch pots or in bare-root bundles of 25 roots. In the long run, the bundles are a much better value, but it means you need to plant them as soon as you get them home to keep the roots from drying out. If you can’t plant right away, heal them into a holding bed and plant them within a week.

The nice thing about strawberries is that they can fit into any bright, sunny garden spot or in pots on your deck. To produce the most berries, they need a full day of sun. If you are planting them in the garden, work up an area with soil that drains water away easily; they don’t like wet feet. Add about 25 percent by volume of good compost and form the bed into a low mound. Mulch the bed with shredded pine needles or leaves to prevent weeds from sprouting.

Pull back the mulch and plant the strawberry root so that the junction between the roots and the leaves is right at the soil surface. If you bury the growing point too deep or too shallow, the plants will struggle and be more susceptible to disease. If you bought roots in pots, gently remove the plants from the pots and set them in the soil. If you bought bare-root plants, soak them in water for an hour before you plant them to rehydrate the roots. Fertilize with an all-purpose garden fertilizer and water well.

If you are planting in containers, use a good quality commercial potting soil that will stay loose and drain easily. The pot should be at least 16 to 18 inches in diameter, so the plants have room to spread. A strawberry pot with holes in the side will give you much more planting area. Water the plants about once a week and more often as it gets hot.

Strawberries come in three different types; June-bearing, day-neutral and everbearing. June-bearing plants will produce berries in June and are the most prolific. Day-neutral plants will produce a lighter crop throughout the season until frost. Everbearing plants will produce one crop in June and another in the early fall. The latter two tend to produce fewer runners which makes them better for container plantings or in tight spaces in the garden. June-bearing plants send out runners that then root and make new plants, so they need more room to spread.

It is best to pick off all the flowers the first year to let the plants get established. Fertilize the June-bearers and everbearing plants right after they finish fruiting with an all-purpose fertilizer. Day-neutral plants should be fertilized in June and August.

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