Gardening Vivian | 04 Oct 2010 05:39 am

How to Grow Strawberries in New England

Sweet, juicy, ripe strawberries! What could be better than picking one right from your own garden and eating it out of hand. Or you might want to gather a bowlful, slice them and serve them over homemade shortcake biscuits or cake. If you grow enough, you can even make jam and preserve it or freeze it. Someone said once that strawberry preserves are like “summer in a jar.”

But here in New England, whether you live in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massacusetts, Rhode Island or Connecticut, growing strawberries can be a challenge. Spring warmth often turns to snow squalls or long damp, cold days. Winter is snowy and cold and frost travels deep into the ground, heaving it up in the spring. Summers can be hot and dry or cool and rainy, depending on the year, or a combination of both for long periods.

It’s essential that you choose a type of strawberry that grows well in the Northeast. Some types that do well here are Earliglow, Redchief and Allstar, but my favorite is Cavendish, which does very well in Maine where I live. It produces large sweet fruit and is tolerant of uneven growing conditions and weather. I’ve had very good luck with it for several years and would recommend it if your garden soil is heavy and/or clay-like.

Your local Extension Office can advise you on what types grow best in your area and also give you growing tips for your particular situation. They’re also able to help with pest problems, soil analysis and diseases of strawberries. You’d be well advised to use their services which are usually free.

Except for the day neutral types, which we won’t get into here, strawberries do best in hills in a bed that is wide enough so that their runners can be covered with soil, thereby producing new plants. For the first year, it’s wise to pinch off the flowerbuds, so that they’ll produce more and bigger berries the second year. When runners appear, bury them and they’ll produce new plants.

Weeding your strawberry bed is very important, because weeds will choke the plants and reduce the yield. Mulching is a good idea also, to keep down weeds and reduce damage from moisture and dirt. Clean straw can be used and is, in fact, how strawberries got their name. Growers used straw to mulch them.

In the fall, you should always mulch the beds to protect the plants from winter damage. Remove all the leaves and cover the crowns with a thin layer of mulch. You can add fertilizer, organic is best, at this time. In the spring, remove the mulch from the top of the crowns and water regularly. Soon, you’ll have another crop of sweet, juicy strawberries from your own garden.

Strawberry beds will usually produce a decent crop for up to 5 years. After that, replanting is necessary. You might want to grow two varieties and experiment with a third, to see which does best where you live. That way, you could also plant one variety that produces a spring crop, one that produces in June and one that bears sporadically all season.

Once you’ve grown your own strawberries, you’ll never want to be without some in the freezer or fridge or in jam on a shelf in your pantry. Full of antioxidants, vitamins and flavor, strawberries are one of the best things to grow in your New England garden.

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