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Grow Your Own: Strawberries

Strawberries are easy to grow, and can supply a steady crop of flavorful ruby berries throughout the summer. Once you taste a home-grown strawberry you picked off your back porch, grocery store berries will never be the same.

Strawberries can be grown in the ground or in containers – hanging pots are handy, as the plants grow over the edge, making the berries easy to see and pick. Hanging plants can produce up to 50% more fruit than those planted in the ground. They look pretty, too.

With strawberries, don’t bother starting from seed – buy small plants at the garden centre and pluck any existing fruit from them before you transplant them, so that all their energy can go toward establishing a root system.

Plant your strawberries in early spring, after the last frost, in a sunny location with loose, well-drained soil. They can be grown in most garden soils, but grow best in well-drained soil with plenty of compost. They can be grown in the ground or in pots (hanging or not) – as they grow, they throw out tendrils, which eventually begin to grow new plants. Pinching off these new runners will improve fruit production, as energy will be directed to growing berries rather than to new plants. If you do want your strawberry plants to expand, pin down the little runners wherever you want them to put down roots, and voila – soon you’ll have another strawberry plant.

Fruit will appear three to five weeks after the blossoms; pick the berries when they are completely red and ripe, and pick them quickly; they tend to spoil after a few days of ripeness on the vine.

During the winter, strawberries need protection if you live in an area where the ground freezes. As soon as it does, cover the plants with about a foot of straw, hay, even dead leaves – in spring you can rake it off, leaving some of the composted matter to help the new plants along. Strawberry plants have a 3 year cycle, meaning that the first year you’ll get a small crop, the next year a large crop, and the third year a not-so-large crop – after three years they dwindle, so you’ll need to replace your plants, unless their runners have already done it for you.

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