Fall Strawberries: A Surprise Harvest?

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I became convinced of the value of planting strawberries in the fall of the mid-1990s. I have been systematically experimenting with strawberries since 1993 to grow the greatest yield from a given area. 

Setting StrawberriesPin

Dozens of experiments confirm this statement: you get the largest yield from the matted row system. Mother plants are set in September or early October (latitude of Boston), with runner plants growing the next summer and the crop harvested the following June.

Disadvantage: Mulch Twice

The one disadvantage is that the grower has to mulch twice. The mother plants must be covered with straw or pine needles during the first Winter; the rows must be covered the next Winter. 

One year in five, perhaps, one can get by without mulching if the snow stays on the ground from December to April. But even moderate thawing and heaving will injure crowns and reduce yield.

Secret of Big Yields

It depends primarily on one simple factor the grower must consider. The size of the crop (assuming good soil, ample fertilization, and irrigation while the berries are swelling) depends on the number of leaves per plant.

New Idea For You

Many leaves signify a big crown; this means root growth to support many blossoming and fruiting stalks. 

All fruit buds are formed in the fall; a bud usually forms at the growing point of each crown and on strong plants in many leaf axes also. 

In scores of records (now confirmed by experiments of the U. S. Department of Agriculture), it is proven that the greater the number of leaves on a plant in the fall, the greater the number of berries it will produce the following June.

Let’s See How This Works

Fall-set plants get their roots established before freezing weather; the following spring, the mother plants start runners in May and June. Conversely, mother plants set in the spring do not get many runners going until July and August. 

Therefore, the runners from the fall-set plants become much larger than those from the spring-set plants.

Setting Plants

As you set plants in September or early October, they must be kept moist if the weather is dry. 

I use a cup of water daily on each plant unless rain intervenes. In the spring, remove the mulch from these mother plants in April. 

As the runners grow, move them around with the hoe until each new plant is approximately eight inches from its nearest neighbor. 

Seventy-five percent or more of the roots of a husky strawberry plant are in the top 6” inches of soil; therefore, a major secret of a big crop is to give each plant sufficient room for its feeding rootlets. 

Chopping Secondary Runners

Another essential point is to chop off secondary runners. 

When a runner plant establishes itself, it quickly starts another runner. Therefore, if you want the largest possible plants with the maximum number of leaves, this secondary runner must be eliminated.

Best Fertilizer System

After many fertilizer experiments, I am about ready to conclude that the best system is to use 5-8-7, 6-6-6, or 5-10-10 at the rate of 100 pounds per 1000 square feet mixed into the topsoil before the mother plants are set in the fall. 

Possibly a secondary application of 25 to 50 pounds per 1000 square feet next spring increases yield; my results are inconclusive.

Setting Plants In Fall

If you set 50 plants 2’ feet apart and each mother plant establishes eight runner plants, you have 400 plants for fruiting. 

If these plants are big, with big crowns and many leaves, you can harvest 100 quarts from a 50-foot row. 

I realize this is much more than is commonly harvested than the experiment stations tell us we can get. 

But if you try setting the plants in the fall, growing big plants the following summer, and taking the harvest the next June, you will have a very pleasant surprise.

44659 by S Pearson