By GEOFF MIERS
Want to get the kids involved in the garden then suggest they help grow some strawberry plants.
Strawberries are great fun, they are a delicious food and they are guaranteed to stimulate interest in gardening and a place can be found for them in any garden.
Strawberry can be planted any time from the middle of March through to September. The earlier you plant, however, the better the results. Strawberries planted now will be producing lots of fruit by mid spring through to summer.
Strawberries planted in spring generally have little opportunity to really grow and produce much before the fierce heat of summer arrives. Planted now they have the two peak growing seasons to develop.
Strawberries do best in sweet, well-drained, sandy loam rich in humus. Soil preparation prior to planting will certainly improve the plant’s cropping potential.
When preparing the soil, dig to a depth of 30 to 40cm adding liberal quantities of well rotted compost or commercially available soil conditioners guaranteed to improve the soil’s water holding capacity, stimulate micro-bionic soil activity and improve soil fertility.
Commercially prepared animal manures may also be added liberally or blend in an organic fertiliser such as GrowBetter for best results.
Strawberries are hungry feeders and once established side dressings of an organic fertiliser should be periodically applied fortnightly or alternatively a liquid fertiliser. Strawberries will thrive if fed frequently with a liquid fertiliser.
Once the plants mature and commence flowering apply side dressings of potash weekly for four weeks. This should improve flowering and assist with fruit set and improve the size and flavour of the fruit.
Strawberries will grow in full sun although I have seen many gardens accommodating extremely healthy productive strawberry plants that are growing in full sun in the morning and with light to moderate shade in the afternoon.
Strawberries are versatile plants and can be grown in a number of different ways.
They do well in container gardens, in hanging baskets, in planter boxes, in the green house, as ground cover plants in the general landscaped garden, in the pool side garden, in the flowering annual garden or simply in a separate patch in the vegetable garden.
Strawberries also grow extremely well in the hydroponic garden. If growing strawberries in hanging baskets you will need to regularly fertilise them with a liquid fertiliser as generally the baskets are limited in size and any fertiliser in the soil can quickly be taken up by the plant(s).
If you live in a flat or townhouse why not build a temporary garden box out of loose concrete blocks or four timber planks bolted or nailed together. Be sure however to place plastic under the garden bed coming up the sides if building it on concrete. The plastic will prevent straining.
This temporary garden has many advantages. It is easy to construct, neat and tidy, makes maximum use of space and importantly is easy to dismantle and relocate if one moves house.
If you are growing strawberries in a separate garden bed your beds should be around 90cm wide with two staggered rows in the bed. Allow 45cm between rows and 30cm between plants. You may double plant in the first year however you will need to thin out your plants in the second year.
Strawberries can suffer from several leaf spotting fungal diseases if wet or humid weather is prevalent however the most likely cause is overhead watering. Strawberries should be watered from below for best results.
To prevent fruit from being spoiled it pays to mulch around the strawberry plants, this mulch will keep the fruit up off the ground.
A mulch of pea straw to 10cm will limit fruit being scorched or burnt by the sun, decrease damage from pests, keep fruit clean, limit weed growth and importantly moderate soil temperatures.
Traditionally black plastic has been used over strawberry beds. This is not recommended in this climate. Mulching only with hay will allow the soil to breathe easier, can make watering simpler, simplifies the task of fertilising and of course it eventually will break down, conditioning the soil.
Be careful when using sugar cane mulch as if applied too thick it can become an impenetrable barrier that doesn’t allow water applied or the rain to move through the mulch to the ground and thus to the plants.
Few problems are experienced with strawberry cultivation as long as you have given attention to soil preparation, have planted virus and pest free seedlings, watered regularly and when required fertilised with a liquid fertiliser or applied side-dressings of an organic fertiliser.
Birds, snails and slugs can be a problem. A few strands of fishing line or string with strips of aluminium foil will keep most birds away and a border of wood shavings or sawdust should keep the crawlers out. Mulch also helps enormously.
IMAGE: Country Living Magazine.
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