Strawberries are a popular fruit that can be found fresh in the produce section most of the year.
Unfortunately, what is found here pales in comparison to what can be grown in the garden.
The colour, texture and taste of a fresh picked berry is far superior to what is offered in most stores.
Strawberries are relatively easy to grow but they need the correct conditions to do their best.
The soil needs to be fertile with good drainage. These plants along with their fruit tend to rot when they get too wet. This does not mean that strawberries like to be dry.
Plants do best if they have approximately an inch of water each week from when they start to bloom until they are finished producing fruit.
Water is essential to produce large, succulent berries.
The amount of sunlight also makes a huge difference. The best berries are produced on plants that receive over six hours of direct light a day.
Strawberries will grow and produce in less than optimum conditions but the amount and final product will not be as good.
There are three types of berries on the market: June Bearing, Day Neutral and Everberring.
June Bearing strawberries are large plants that produce a large amount of strawberries for two to three weeks.
Be sure to remove all runners until the plants have finished their fruiting cycle. At this time the runners can be allowed to grow to produce new plants.
The time the fruit is available is determined by the variety of plant; early, middle or late season.
It is conceivable to plant June bearing strawberries and have fresh fruit available for most of the summer.
Day neutral berries produce berries through out the season but will have times when they fruit heavier than others. While the quality, depending on the conditions, can be excellent the berries are somewhat smaller than June bearing plants.
These plants will also expand through runners but be warned that the more runners on the plant the less fruit will be produced.
Everbearing Strawberries will produce two to three crops a season. These plants rarely produce runners and their berries are similar in size to the day neutrals.
Most strawberry plants are sold as bare root in early spring.
The plants are then planted as soon as possible.
Strawberries grow best if their roots are spread over a mound with the crown or top of the roots at soil level; plants that are planted too deep or too shallow struggle to survive.
For a stronger plant, all blossoms should be removed from June bearing varieties the first year.
Flowers on everbearing and day neutral varieties should be removed until the end of June.
This gives the plant time to become established and produce a crop of berries later in the season.
Strawberry plants are most productive when they are two to four years old.
It is possible to tell the plants age by the color of their roots as they start a light brown and over the course of approximately five years turn black. Commercial growers tend to keep their plants in place for three to four years and then replant the bed.
Not all gardens are large enough to accommodate a June bearing strawberry patch.
A good compromise would be day neutral and everbearing strawberries as they take up less room and will thrive in pots.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at email@example.com