Growing Day Neutral Strawberries

Unlike the common June-bearing strawberries, the day-neutral strawberries flower and produce fruit anytime temperatures are between 35° F. and 85° F. These strawberries will not produce a single “bumper crop” of berries in June, but will instead produce berries throughout the summer and as late as October in some seasons. Unlike June-bearing strawberries the day-neutral types will yield well during their first year when they are planted. Day-neutral strawberries do not send out runners profusely like the June-bearing types and therefore you will be managing the planting differently.

Site Selection:
Day-neutral strawberries grow best in a sunny location on deep, well-drained, sandy loam soil with a pH of approximately 6.2. The day-neutral strawberries are also ideal for planting as “annuals” in containers. Strawberries do not tolerate extremes in pH (less than 5.5 or greater than 7.0). Limestone and other soil amendments that are used to adjust soil pH require at least two months of warm weather to work, so plan ahead to leave enough time to amend the soil if necessary.

Plants can be productive over a broad range of soil types, but extremes should be
avoided; clay soils retain moisture but are often poorly drained, and sandy soils
require irrigation. The addition of organic matter such as high quality finished
compost can help improve sandy or clay soils.

Adequate soil drainage is essential for healthy strawberries. Home gardeners
should plant on a ridge or in raised beds if soil drains poorly or consider selecting a
more suitable site. Strawberries are shallow-rooted plants and benefit from
irrigation. Raised bed plantings may dry out sooner that conventional planting.
Irrigation provides frost protection as well.

When plants arrive, keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant. Just before planting you will want to soak the roots in water for a few hours.

Early Care

Planting:
Place plants in the soil as soon as possible in the spring. Avoid exposing plants to sun and wind. Cool, cloudy weather is ideal for planting. When plants are set, the roots should extend vertically into the soil and be completely covered just to the crown level; do not bury the crowns. It may be necessary to cut the roots back to 4 inches before setting. During the first few weeks after planting, be sure plants have adequate water. Fall planting is not recommended.

Cultural Systems and Runner Removal:
Day-neutral cultivars do not produce runners profusely, so attempting to establish a matted row is not practical. Plant them 5–9 inches apart in single rows that are spaced 42 apart. With this system
remove the runners for the entire first season, which will increase yields significantly. Another option, which will reduce competition and increase yields, is a staggered double
row planting system. With this system plants are spaced 10–18 inches apart, alternating them in two narrow rows that are just 8 inches apart. Space each staggered double row in your
garden 42 inches apart.

Flower and Fruiting:
Day-neutral plants produce flowers from the time of planting through frost in autumn. Fruits will form in about 30 days after flowers open. Cover the plants with 2 inches of mulch in the late fall when temperatures approach 20° F. Remove the mulch in early spring around the
end of March to mid-April after the threat of severely cold weather has passed.

Maintenance

Watering: Strawberry plants should receive 1 inch of water each week, either by rainfall or irrigation.

Mulching: Day-neutral strawberries perform best when mulched with straw immediately after planting. Mulched plants have cleaner fruit and suffer less drought stress.

Harvesting: For maximum sweetness and flavor pick fruit a day or two after they are ripe. Berries picked before they are completely red will ripen, but they will not sweeten off the vine. Slightly unripe berries can be used for making jam. Under favorable conditions, expect a total yield of about one quart of fruit per foot of matted row. Immediately remove berries that do not ripen because they harbor diseases and attract insects.

For long-term storage of fresh berries, select firm berries that are not yet fully ripe, cool them immediately after harvest, and wrap in plastic after cooling. Store as close to 33 degrees F. as possible, but be sure the berries do not freeze. Before using, allow the berries to warm inside the plastic wrap to prevent condensation from forming directly on the berries. When these steps are followed, strawberries will be of acceptable quality for several days.

Resource: Cornell Guide to Growing Fruit at Home. Cornell University. Horticulture diagnostic laboratory.

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