Gardens

Caring for Your Strawberry Fruit: Watering and Fertilizers

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Strawberries offer the home gardener a delicious way to go from garden to table. To ensure the success of your strawberry fruit production means you need to pay attention to the plant's watering requirements as well as how and when to apply strawberry fertilizer. The three main varieties of strawberry plants are Junebearers, Everbearing, and Day neutral. There are early, mid-season, and late-harvest varieties.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein suggests, "If you love the idea of growing your own strawberries but lack the space, consider buying a strawberry pot. Strawberry pots are urn shaped containers with pockets running up the sides. Choose a pot depending on how many plants you want. Keep in mind that you will need to water a small pot much more regularly than a large one. Strawberry plants also grow well and look beautiful in hanging baskets."

Watering

In order to produce a good harvest of strawberries, whatever variety you select for your garden, your plants need irrigation on a regular basis. Gardening experts recommend about 1 to 2 inches of water per plant per week. This is especially important when the strawberry fruit is beginning to ripen, from early bloom to the end of harvest. Never allow the plants to go into a water stress situation. If there is no rain, water regularly through sprinklers, hand watering or drip irrigation. Continue watering through September.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Water new plants or transplants immediately. Remember that strawberries planted in a container will dry out quicker than those in the ground. Water these daily. If using a sprinkler to water, make sure to water early in the morning so that the foliage dries before nightfall. This will help to prevent leaf diseases. Strawberries love water, but they can't swim! Never let your plants sit in standing water."

Drip irrigation works best for strawberry plants once the plants are established, growing well, and have formed several leaves. When used in combination with mulch around the strawberry plants, drip irrigation helps keep strawberry fruit foliage and fruit disease to a minimum. Drip irrigation also helps to protect against root and crown rot, and problems with snails, slugs and sawbugs.

Place your drip line (or drip tape) between rows of plants, or alongside a single row of strawberry plants. Run the drip system twice during the week, long enough to thoroughly wet the strawberry beds.

You can also use furrow irrigation if you have raised bed strawberry fruit plants in your garden.

If you’ve noticed a salt accumulation in your strawberry garden, use sprinklers to rinse away the salts.

TIP: Rachel adds, "During the spring of planting pinch off all flowers as they appear. This will allow plants to put energy into developing healthy root systems and will ensure future productivity."

Fertilizer

Strawberry plants need phosphorus during their early growth period. This encourages good root system development and results in greater production of strawberry fruit. The strawberry plants also require the addition of nitrogen fertilizer during the season in order to maintain healthy and productive plants.

TIP: Rachel advises, "If your plants have yellow leaves, produce very small berries, or do not flower or produce berries, they are in need of a fertilizer regimen."

You will need to apply fertilizer carefully, as you don’t want to injure the strawberry plants. You may also choose to use organic fertilizers, substituting fish meal or a mixture of blood and bone meal.

TIP: Rachel adds, "Compost, home made or store bought, is also a great fertilizer for strawberries.Organic or inorganic mulch will add extra nutrients to the soil while preventing weeds and keeping the soil temperature cool."

Begin with rich organic soil. Apply fertilizer that is balanced (such as 10-10-10) at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of row. Fertilize after harvesting Junebearers, or after the second harvest of Everbearing and Day neutral varieties. Some experts recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer in February. Add fertilizer again in summer if you want strawberry fruit for the following year. Use 3 pounds of 12-12-12 or equivalent nitrogen per 100 feet of row. This helps in strawberry fruit bud formation. Follow the directions on the package for proper application.

TIP: Rachel says, "Never fertilize plants that are flowering or producing berries. The fertilizers can weaken the berries and harm your crop.If using an organic fertilizer, like fish, blood, or bone meal, apply once a month from June to September. Add a layer of compost 1 to 2 inches thick at the beginning of each growing season."

Be careful not to over fertilize. This will result in excessive leaf growth and poor flowering strawberry plants. Also, don't do late-season fertilizing in colder climates. You want to prevent new growth that frost would damage.