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Growing Strawberries

Best Kinds of Strawberries to Plant in the Upper Midwest OR Varieties Recommended for the Upper Midwest

Two varieties of strawberries grow well in the Upper Midwest (UM). The first is the June bearing which bears one large crop in the later half of June. The other is the Everbearing Variety which bears one small crop in Spring then continually bears smaller fruits over the next couple of months. For those living in colder climates, the ever bearing might be best with the shorter growing season. However, for those living in at least Zone 4, the June bearing crop might be best. 

When to Plant Strawberries

Plant your strawberries in early spring, as soon as the ground is soft enough to work with your hands or a trowel. Start by loosening the soil down to a depth of 6 inches, amending the soil with manure or compost a few months or even as far in advance as a year before you plant your strawberries.

Where to Plant Strawberries / Choosing a Place to Plant Strawberries 

Strawberry plants need 6-10 hours a day of direct sunlight, so find a sunny spot to establish your strawberry patch. They also need a lot of room to sprawl. 

Strawberries can grow in a lot of different soil types but prefer slightly acidic (ph 5.5-7 is ideal), loamy soil that drains well. Drainage is key. They will tolerate other soil types, but you’ll need to send more time amending the soil. If you don’t have an area with well-drained soil or if your soil is naturally alkaline, consider planting strawberries in raised beds or containers with compost-rich potting soil.

One more thing to note in the planning phase. Strawberries are delicious not only to humans, but to other critters, so consider establishing your patch where you can protect it from animal thieves. (More on that later).

Preparing The Soil for Your Strawberry Patch

You will want to amend your soil, depending on the kind of soil in your area. Sandy soil requires less work. Just remove weeds and mix in 1 inch of compost or manure. You have to spend a little more time to prepare clay soil. Mix in 4-5 inches of compost into the clay soil and create raised mounds to create drainage.

With strawberries it’s best to rotate your crops each year, but avoid areas where strawberries or nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant recently grew.

How to Plant Strawberries

  • Place your plants about 18 inches (1.5 feet) apart to leave room for runners (lateral stems) and leave 4 feet between rows. Strawberries will send out runners and sprawl!
  • Dig your planting holes deep and wide enough to accommodate the whole root system without bending. 
  • Return the soil to the hole to bury the roots. The roots should be covered, but the crown--the bud where the stems come out of the roots (see illustration below) should be right at the soil surface. Don’t bury the crown or your plant could rot. The stems,  leaves, flowers, and fruit should be exposed to sun and fresh air.
  • Water your plants well when you plant them to help them settle into their new home.

How to Grow Strawberries

  • Mulch your strawberry beds to keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from taking over. Any kind of mulch—from black plastic to shredded leaves will do the trick.
  • Weeding is crucial in the first few months after planting and unfortunately you have to weed by hand!
  • Water adequately, about 1 inch per square foot per week. Strawberries have shallow roots, so they need to stay moist, but not sit in standing water. Keep your strawberry patch well-watered, especially in the spring as the plants are being established and flowering and again in the fall as they prepare for winter. 
  • Fertilize with nitrogen and follow the specific instructions on the bag for your area. Strawberry fertilizers will be available at your local hardware store, nursery, or garden center.  
  • If you have the discipline, pick off blossoms in the first year to discourage strawberry plants from fruiting. They will spend the first year establishing healthy roots and yields will be much greater in the second year.
  • Strawberry plants will send out runners and establish “daughter” plants that root and become new strawberry plants. Try to keep these “daughters” at least 10 inches apart. First and second generation plants yield more fruit. It’s okay to pull up runner plants as needed, amend the soil, and establish new plants each year to keep your patch producing high quality berries year after year.
  • We mentioned that critters like birds love strawberries. You can deter birds by using row covers. A ground cover is a sheet of plastic or planting fabric that helps keep moisture close to the surface and deters weeds.