Last year, we had the best crop of strawberries ever – a large silver bowl of big, juicy, red strawberries every day for three and a half months non-stop. I thought I’d put together some tips to help others who may have been struggling to get a good crop of strawberries in the past, like us.
o Use quality plants. The fruit will only be as good as the quality of the plants that are used to grow them. I sourced ours through a commercial grower in Katikati because I needed a very large number of plants to fill our patch and he was able to sell them to me bare-rooted, which made them more affordable as opposed to purchasing them in pots individually from the garden centre. If you can, try to get plants which are in their second year. According to my supplier, strawberries fruit best on second year runners. Production decreases to 60% in the third year, so it might be worth putting in fresh plants for next season, like we did
o Everyone loves strawberries, so grow as many as you have room for! I would recommend putting in at least six plants per family member, space permitting
o Choose a sunny site as strawberries do best in full sun
o Spend time and effort preparing the soil well prior to planting. I like mixing in lots of well-rotted compost, sheep pellets and general garden fertiliser into the area beforehand
o Something I am trying for the first time this year is growing our strawberry plants in black plastic as a way of keeping the soil warm. This method was recommended to me by two commercial growers, so they both can’t be wrong. This has the added advantage of keeping the weeds to a minimum
o If you’re not using black plastic, mulch around the plants. In the past, I always used pea straw as a form of mulch, because it adds nitrogen to the soil. The reason for mulching is to add nutrients to the soil and help keep the weeds down
o Keep your plants well-watered, especially as temperatures increase going into summer. If there are dry patches during winter, you may need to water your strawberry patch with the hose
o When spring starts, use some fertiliser on your plants to encourage flowering and the formation of fruit. I like using Yates Thrive water soluble berry fertiliser as it encourages fruit production
o Keep weeds down as they compete with the plants for essential nutrients from the soil and for water
o Cover plants with bird netting when fruit starts forming. Make sure that the holes in the netting are large enough to let the bees in as they help to pollinate the flowers, which is essential for the formation of fruit
o Pick berries regularly as they ripen
o Don’t be alarmed if your strawberries go through a period when they stop producing during the season. Just give them time and they should start fruiting again
o At the end of the season (which for us is usually about the start of the new year), you can leave the plants in the ground if you don’t need to use the area to grow other things. The plants will produce runners, or baby strawberry plants, which can later be detached from the parent plants and potted up. You will have fresh plants for next season for free!