Nothing evokes summer more than the scent and taste of strawberries. Their botanical name is ‘Fragaria’ – how utterly perfect, writes Flo Whitaker.
Shop-bought strawberries are never cheap, so it really pays to grow your own. There are many varieties to choose from.
Check the labels and note harvesting times; some types produce early crops, others fruit in mid-late season. If space permits, select several varieties to give a staggered crop throughout summer.
When making a strawberry bed, ensure the area is well-weeded before incorporating plenty of moistureretentive compost or leaf mould. Add a few spadefuls of very well-rotted manure or proprietary general-purpose fertiliser applied at the recommended rate.
Strawberries are hardworking plants that require good nutrition and plenty of light. They won’t perform well if forced to compete for resources, so be generous and space plants 30-40cms apart.
Weeding around established plants is a fiddly task. Consider using a weedsupressing membrane, particularly if planting a large area. This porous fabric is laid onto the surface of prepared soil. The strawberries are then planted into the soil through small incisions made in the membrane. Some gardeners reckon the fabric, (usually black in colour) absorbs heat and aids ripening. I haven’t noticed any benefits in this respect, although developing berries can be damaged by prolonged contact with wet soil, so a membrane will certainly help keep fruit in good condition.
If not using a membrane, take handfuls of straw and make ‘cushions’ underneath developing fruits.
This will raise them above the soil and protect from damp.
Mould and mildew can affect strawberries, particularly during humid weather. Enhanced air circulation helps to prevent this – another good reason for leaving generous spaces between plants. Many modern varieties have been bred to offer disease-resistance, without compromising on flavour.
A sunny position is essential for strawberries. However, Fragaria vesca, (Alpine, Wild or Woodland strawberry) breaks this rule and prefers light shade. Vigorous and super-hardy; it makes a dainty border edging and can also be used as ground-cover. The tiny fruits are ideal for decorating cakes and garnishing summer drinks.
Strawberries also thrive in patio pots, but don’t cram them, (three plants per 30 cm pot is sufficient) and be vigilant when it comes to watering. A fortnightly feed of tomato fertiliser throughout summer will help maintain their vigour.
Plants lose energy after a few years and should be replaced. It’s easy to propagate new ones by pegging ‘runners’; (long, whippy growths made in mid/late summer) into the soil. They will quickly take root, then can be cut away from the parent plant.
Cover plants with protective mesh as soon as the fruits have formed as blackbirds uncannily know the moment they’re ripe. You can diligently set an alarm clock for a crack-of-dawn harvesting session, but they’ll still get there before you. Early birds don’t just catch worms…