Growing strawberries in your home garden can be an interesting and rewarding experience. By growing various cultivars (varieties) of strawberries, you can pick ripe fruit from late spring until frost in the fall. If you care for plants properly, you can obtain enough berries for your family from a relatively small area. Choosing Strawberry Plants: There are basically three types of strawberry plants to choose from: June bearing, Ever-bearing and Day Neutral. June Bearing strawberries produce a single, large crop per year during a 2 to 3 week period in the spring. June bearers are the traditionally grown plants, producing a single flush of flowers and many runners. They are classified into early, mid-season and late varieties. The largest fruits are generally from June bearing varieties. Ever-bearing strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Ever-bearing plants do not send out many runners. Day Neutral strawberries will produce fruit throughout the growing season. These strawberries also produce few runners. Ever-bearing and day neutral strawberries are great when space is limited, but the fruits are usually somewhat smaller than June bearers. Factors Affecting Growth: Long days and warm temperatures favor the growth of leaves and runners, while short days and cool temperatures are necessary for flower formation in the short day varieties. Strawberries will have more flavor when grown in areas where days are sunny and nights are cool. Strawberries that grow during cool temperatures have firmer fruit than those grown during warm humid weather. Temperatures of 70 to 80 F during the day and 60 to 65 during the night result in a ripening period of about 30 days. Site Selection: Plant strawberries in the sunniest area of your garden. They require full sun for most of the day, although some late afternoon shade is tolerable in mid-summer. Good water drainage through the soil is essential. Soils with high clay content are typically poorly drained, while sandy soils drain very well. If the soil is heavy and tends to stay wet, it is best to plant on raised beds to improve drainage. Planting: The best planting time is early spring. Choose a sunny spot. Frost will not hurt the plants. Position the roots so that they are straight down into the ground. Do not allow them to curl up. Pack the soil around each plant taking care not to disturb the proper depth. Water well and continue to irrigate, as needed. Plant strawberries in double rows. Space plants 12” apart. Space rows 18” apart. By removing the plant blossoms in the first growing season, you will divert the plant’s energy into runner production rather than fruit production. This will enable the plant to produce more berries the following season. Prune off all runners that develop the first season so all the energy is focused into fruit production. If the plants are not sized up when flower production starts, remove first flush of flowers. If berry production or plants are less vigorous in subsequent years, you may want to put in new plants in fresh foil to get that incredible vigor you witnessed the first year. Commercially, they are usually treated as annuals, even though; they are in fact, perennials. Mulching: In areas that have cold winters, mulching is necessary to protect your strawberry plants. Cover your plants with straw in late fall. Approximately 3-5 inches will be sufficient. Remove the straw in early spring when you notice new growth on the plant. Container Growing: Another great way to grow “ever-bearing” and “day neutral” strawberries is to plant in narrow planter boxes that are approximately 6” to 8” deep by 5” to 7” wide by 18” to 4’ long. Use high quality potting mix, like Esbenshade’s, mixing in additional fertilizer as directed on the fertilizer label. Thoroughly incorporate fertilizer into potting mix. Plant so crowns are not buried by time you water. Keep moist but not soggy. Grow in full sun all day and expect luscious berries in 3 months. They are beautiful ornamental plants, which will dazzle your visitors. They should be spaced 10” to 14” apart depending on level of fertilization and plant size.