“My strawberries were awesome until the neighbor’s chickens got into my bed and scratched them up. Since then the berries are really small and hardly worth picking. Do I need to buy new plants or will pumping up the soil be enough to bring them back to their formal glory? I am including a picture of the crop I used to get and now I can barely fill up a cereal bowl when I pick.” Question from Sylvia of Belle Plaine, Minnesota
Answer: It sounds like the chickens caused your strawberries a lot of stress, but plant age may also be an issue. Many gardeners don’t know that strawberries are a three-year crop. The parent plants only produce well for three years before declining. In the second year, it is often good to nurture one good runner from each parent plant as a replacement. Then in the third year, the parent plants should be removed. It is the cycle for keeping strawberry patches producing at no additional cost.
Nurturing the soil will certainly boost growth as will fertilization, but old strawberry plants are not revivable. To learn everything that you need to know about making the most of strawberry plants, please reach the articles below and watch the video. Oh, and some chicken wire will help keep feathered beasts from scratching them up!
“What do you do with strawberry plants in the winter?” Question from Jacklyn or Portland, Oregon
Answer: In mild areas like yours, strawberries (Fragaria spp., USDA Zones 4-9) are very hardy, so no special overwintering measures need to be taken. You can, however, clean them up and thin clumps that are over 3 years of age to encourage strong fruiting. Central plants that are three or more years old start to produce less and less fruit. If you replace the main plants with one of the plant’s newer offshoots, you will get more strawberries the following year.
Start by weeding around your strawberry plants. You can also protect them with light straw or leaf mulch around the base of the plants. If you have older strawberries that need to be thinned and replaced, remove the central plant, and plant in its place one of the larger offshoots that have rooted. Fertilize your new strawberry plants with an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer to encourage good rooting and growth through fall and again late winter. Feed once more in early to mid-spring.
From there, I encourage you to watch our video about everything that you need to know about growing strawberries.
“Do blueberries and strawberries need to be fertilized?” Question from Melanie of Holton, Michigan
Answer: Absolutely! Fertilization will encourage better growth, flowering, and fruit set. Each berry type has different needs when it comes to fertilizer.
Blueberries grow best in more acid soils (pH between 4.5 and 5.5) and require a specialty fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants and/or berries. I generally fertilize in spring with a continuous-release fertilizer, but how you fertilize will depend on the product you choose. Follow the manufacturer’s application recommendations. There are many types of blueberry shrubs. To learn more, watch our video all about choosing and growing blueberries.
Strawberries like soils with a more neutral pH, and are less fussy. To encourage berry production, choose a specialty fertilizer formulated for strawberries or berries. There are many on the market. If your strawberries are June-bearing then I recommend fertilizing them in early spring and again later in the season, depending on what fertilizer you choose. If your strawberries are everbearing, then I would fertilize them with a continuous-release fertilizer in spring as well as a water-soluble fertilizer that will encourage them to produce berries through summer. For more information about growing strawberries watch this video.
“What are the best strawberry varieties for Texas? I really would like to enjoy them year-round, and I have the ability to grow them in a raised bed that can easily be covered.” Question from Deb or Alvarado, Texas
Answer: Great timing! I just planted 25 strawberries in my own Delaware garden, so strawberries are on my mind. There are two types of strawberries, June-bearing types that produce once a year, and everbearing types that produce one big crop in late spring and then keep yielding additional berries through the season. It sounds like you want the latter. Additionally, some strawberries are better adapted to warmer zones like yours. Three everbearing recommendations for southern gardens like yours include ‘Tribute‘ (medium-fruited, disease-resistant), ‘San Andreas’ (extra-large fruited, heat-tolerant), and ‘Seascape‘ (medium-fruited, disease-resistant). There are many more, but these three are very good choices that are commonly available.
Strawberries grow best in soil that is well-drained, moisture-retentive, light, and high in organic matter. A soil with a slightly acid pH, between 5.5 to 6.5, is ideal. Amending with Black Gold Garden Soil, Peat Moss, or Compost Blend will boost your raised bed soil for strawberry growing. For further growing information and planting guidelines, please watch the video below.
“Which vegetables will tolerate some shade?” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey
Answer: There are some vegetables and herbs that will tolerate some shade in the day, but most will not. Those tolerant of the partial sun are greens, such as lettuce, arugula, kale, and some herbs, such as lemon balm and sweet woodruff.
Berries, such as lowbush and tallbush blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) will also tolerate shade. In fact, both naturally grow in forest openings and are an excellent crop for spots with a little shade. Currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), and elderberries (Sambucus spp.) will also tolerate partial shade conditions. With that said, maybe what you need is a berry patch!
Most other vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of strong direct sunlight when growing most other vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and others that need lots of sun to produce. More sun is always better. Clearing away some of your larger tree branches might help offer more light for a sunnier vegetable patch.
“Are there any companion plants to help strawberries grow and produce better? Or to keep bugs away from them?” Question from Amber of West Plains, Missouri
Answer: The true effectiveness of companion plants to ward off pests is argued. That’s because insect pests can detect their host plants from great distances, and/or they overwinter near host plants from year to year. So, if your strawberries are not covered with a deterring companion plant, there is a good chance they will not be protected. Either way, there are some strong-smelling plants that may be helpful, while also bringing herbal and floral benefits to your strawberry patch and garden. Just be sure that you don’t plant tall plants too close to your strawberries. You do not want them competing for sunlight! And, don’t forget to amend your beds with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, which is OMRI Listed for organic gardening.
Marigolds: Plant small French marigold varieties around your strawberries–the prettier the better.
Basil: I like mini bush basil. Plant them alongside your strawberries and harvest as needed. The two even taste great together.
Rosemary: Shorter or trailing rosemaries may also provide some benefit.
Sage: The strong leaves of sage ward off certain insects and may benefit your strawberries.
Thyme: Most any thyme variety would be the perfect complement to your strawberries. I would recommend lemon thyme, which is believed to deter more insect pests.