NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Melissa Goodson grows strawberries as an attractive border along the edges of her perennial gardens in southeastern Virginia.
In their special spot near the back deck steps, the sun is good for them, and it's easy to harvest berries when they ripen. She prefers everbearing-type strawberries because they produce fruit intermittently during spring, summer and fall and not just the all-at-once bumper crop that June-bearing plants yield. Plus, everbearing plants don't send out so many nuisance runners.
She also finds that kids in the neighborhood like the crop, openly giggling while they sneak berries when they visit her riverfront yard.
Fresh, homegrown strawberries are ideal for introducing kids to edible gardening, according to gardening experts. Kids — with your gentle guidance — can plant a whole patch or just one or two plants in a strawberry jar or large pot.
Children will be fascinated as they watch the strawberries grow. They'll be out there every day, soaking up some healthy sunshine and outdoor exercise while they watch the flowers and berries appear and the bees buzzing about. It's a science lesson all its own, according to educators.
Here are some tips to ensure strawberry success, courtesy of Bonnie Plants.
• When planting strawberries, be sure the crown is above soil level and the uppermost roots are ¼-inch beneath soil level. Buried crowns rot, and exposed roots dry out. Have kids measure and then dig holes for placing plants, depending on space and quantity. Strawberry plants should be placed approximately 14 to 18 inches apart in neat rows that are separated by 2 to 3 feet each. Let runners fill in until plants are 7 to 10 inches apart.
• Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.
• To keep it simple, plant strawberries in a container. Just remember container plantings need more water than in-ground plantings — usually once a day, twice if it's hot. Strawberry pots are the best container choice for growing strawberries. You can fit several plants in one pot; just make sure whatever type of garden pot you use has good drainage. Strawberries have a relatively small root ball and can be grown in containers as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you need to water. Synthetic and light-colored pots keep the roots cooler than dark colors and natural materials that conduct heat.
• Strawberries like well-drained, fairly rich soil, so add compost or other organic matter when preparing the pot or planting patch.
• They need full sun and frequent, deep soakings. Be especially careful to provide adequate water during fruit-bearing season.
• They grow in all gardening zones and should be fed twice a year — when growth begins and after the first crop. Use a complete fertilizer high in phosphorous for feedings. In addition to June and everbearing strawberries, there are day-neutral plants that flower and set fruit when temperatures are between 35 and 85 degrees and alpine varieties that thrive in shade. Be sure to pick the type best suited for your growing conditions.
• Learn how to build a strawberry fountain and pyramid, and get strawberry recipes and bird-protection tips here.
• Find strawberry festivals, plants recommended for each state and recipes here.