by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Strawberry shortcake with a side of vanilla ice cream, strawberry pie loaded with whipped cream, home-made strawberry jam – got you hungry for them? It’s that time of year to start enjoying the taste of those sweet and sometimes tart red berries.
Strawberries are fairly easy to grow here in Indiana and are one of the most popular small fruits grown in the home garden. Strawberries like most soil types but do best on sandy loam or loam soils with good surface drainage and where heavy soils with poor drainage occur, they should be planted in a raised bed fashion with six to eight inches of height. Strawberries like soils that have a high organic matter and fertility content. It is best to purchase healthy, virus free plants from a reliable nursery.
During the first season the flowers should be pinched off to promote early, vigorous plant growth and early formation of runner plants. Runner plants should be positioned so that a density of about 5 plants per square foot is achieved. If too many plants are allowed to grow, they act like weeds and reduce yields and berry size.
Strawberries should never suffer from lack of water. They should get a minimum of one to one and one half inches of water per week. During dry periods supplemental watering will help in fruit bud formation for the following year. It is very important to eliminate stress during any periods of drought.
An all-purpose fruit spray may be needed for strawberry disease and insect control. These usually contain two insecticides and a fungicide. Insecticides work best when the pest can be sprayed directly. Fungicides must be present on the plant before the disease symptoms appear to be effective. Read and follow all label directions. Remove overripe and rotted berries so that problems pertaining to insects and disease can be prevented.
Leaf diseases such as leaf scorch, leaf blight and leaf spot are by far the most common ailments. Leaf spot usually occurs in the early spring with round purple spots on the upper side of the leaf. The center of the spot will become tan or gray then almost white. It may also occur as black areas on the fruit. Leaf scorch is found only on the leaves. It occurs later in the season than leaf spot. The purple spots of leaf scorch remain purple. After the spots cover most of the surface, the leaf will dry up and look scorched. Leaf blight causes large red to brown spots which are surrounded by a purple margin. These diseases are caused by fungi. Shady locations, frequent and heavy showers and poorly drained soils contribute to these diseases.
Gray mold is a fruit rot that begins on the part of the berry that touches the ground or that touch other decayed fruits or leaves. The fruits will eventually be covered with a gray powder or dusty appearing fungus growth. Spraying should begin when first blossoms start to open and be continued every seven to ten days until harvest. If required, sprays may be applied during harvest; however be sure to check label directions for the number of days required between final spray and harvest.
Verticillium Wilt is a soil-borne fungus often appearing about mid-July. The outer leaves will suddenly wilt and dry up. The best way to control this is to plant resistant varieties. Do not grow susceptible strawberry varieties in soil previously occupied by plants that are highly susceptible to soil diseases, especially Verticillium Wilt, such as tomato, pepper and potato. Wait two or three years after these crops have been removed to plant strawberries in those areas.
Your strawberry patch must be renovated each year to maintain quality and productivity. Allow new runner plants to replace the old plants. Most of the fruit of the next season will be produced from the new runner plants that get established this season.
May your berries be large and sweet and as always, Happy Gardening!
More information about growing strawberries and gardening in general is available online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co.,636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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