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Skaggs: TLC helps strawberries survive until spring
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Strawberries: Learn more about growing strawberries in this publication from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

Strawberries are a favorite fruit of many. There's nothing better than fresh-picked strawberries in the spring. And recently, I have received numerous calls and e-mails regarding the planting and care of strawberries.

Like other small fruits, strawberries are considered to be "easier" to grow and care for than many of the tree fruits. Certainly, pruning and harvesting are more manageable for the home gardener, and managing disease and insect pressure are not as intensive either.

The following tips and suggestions can help you care for strawberries through the winter and spring.

Weeding and mulching

During the winter and spring months, periodically check the planting for the development of winter weeds that should be removed.

In late winter, mulch the bed with a 1- to 2-inch layer of pine straw. One bale will cover approximately 100 square feet. Do not use grass clippings because they will smother the strawberry plants.

Remove the straw in the spring when there are signs of new growth. Rake most of the needles off the tops of the plants. The strawberry plants will grow up through the needles, which will help keep the berries from getting soiled. A good layer of mulch prevents bitter rot, slows the spread of anthracnose disease and helps keep the berries clean.

During the growing season, control weeds by mulching and hand-pulling. Mulching, hand-pulling, hoeing and tilling are the best means of control in a small planting. If the planting is vigorous, you will probably have to cut runners that grow into the aisle.

Watering

Strawberries require moisture during the following "critical" times:

  • When plants are set and during dry periods following planting
  • Just before harvest and during harvest when berry size appears to be suffering
  • After renovation, as needed, to encourage new runners
  • In late August, September and early October when fruit buds are forming for the next season's crop

Harvest

Strawberry harvest typically takes place in May. You should pick strawberries every other day or three times a week.

Pick the fruit with about one-quarter of the stem attached. The best time to pick is in early morning when berries are still cool. Not all berries ripen at the same time; pick only those that are fully red.

Bird control

Because there is not much food available for birds when strawberries ripen, birds can be a serious problem.

The most effective method to keep them from getting most of the fruit is to cover the planting with bird netting. The net will have to be anchored all the way around the planting, otherwise the birds will walk under it.

To secure the net, place 6- to 8-inch stakes around the planting every two to three feet. Angle the stakes out away from the rows so that the net can be hooked over the stakes.

This will keep the edge of the net close to the ground and keep the birds from getting under the net. It takes only a few minutes to remove the net for picking and to replace it after you are through.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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