Strawberries: how and when to thin and plant runners

macheske(6/7 NorthernVA)July 9, 2008

This is my first year growing strawberries. I planted Jewel variety in early March about 18" on center. They provided plenty of strawberries this year and sent out an abundance of runners. I want to double the size of my patch and thin them out properly. Here are a few questions:

1. What is the best time to plant the runners into another area?

2. Do I keep some of the runners in the same bed and place them half-way between the original plants?

3. Should I cut down the leaves from the original plants in the fall?

4. Should I cover the plants with mulch for the winter? I know it's good to do that in colder climates, but it doesn't get all that cold here (Don, you there? I'm not far from you)

In the long run I plan on going from 1 40' row to 4 40' rows.

Alternatively, should I order some new plants of another variety and start filling in a new area in the spring?



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What is your strategy for dealing with weeds? I would give that some thought before expanding your patch to four 40' rows. Keeping the plants thinned to 8-10 inches apart is easy, but the weeds can be nearly impossible. I will try to respond to your specific questions, but keep in mind that all these issues are insignificant in a strawberry planting when compared with weeds.

1. Runners may be transplanted any time from late fall, right through winter and into spring.

2. The ground never really freezes in N. Virginia. That is why no insulating mulch is required in winter. If left around the plants in spring, mulch can harbor hatcheries for slugs, pillbugs, and the black strawberry-eating beetle. In most N. Virginia locations, strawberry plants remain green throughout the entire winter. Deer eat them, often pulling them out by the roots. You can reduce deer damage by covering the patch with the cheap, black plastic fencing material sold at bigbox stores, but it must be pinned down or the deer will simply move it out of the way.

3. You can place your runners wherever you like, maintaining a rough distance of 8-10 inches between the plants. Any closer than that and they will start to crowd, sunlight to the berries will be reduced, berry size will decrease, and fungal problems like gray mold will increase. If a runner has rooted in an acceptable location, leave it where it is.

4. If you planted bareroot, bundled plants only this past March, they are still young and should be good for another year. I am a little surprised that you harvested an acceptable crop from spring planted berries. That testifies to the vigor and productivity of the Jewel variety. When I renew a strawberry patch, I remove all plants two years or older in favor of vigorous new runners. Older plants will have longer crowns and are easy to identify. Berry size and productivity fall off rapidly with older plants.

After years of fighting weeds in my strawberry plantings, both annual and perennial, deep-rooted types that are nearly impossible to remove, I planted my most recent patch on 10' wide, 6 mil. black plastic from Lowes. Sometimes they have 6 mil. plastic that is 20' wide. That would be even better for a wider patch. The plastic was one of the better ideas I have had. I just cut an "X" in the plastic for each plant; when runners formed I cut slits and made sure the new crown of leaves was in contact with the soil so it could root. Of course you can't root all the runners from a vigorous variety like Jewel; maybe only 20% or less. Toss out the rest. Worked great. There is some hand labor involved, but nothing like what you will soon face from weeds in a patch as large as you contemplate. A few weeds will still grow around the cuts in the plastic, but nothing like you will see if you leave the area open.

If you feel like trying another variety, that's up to you. Delmarvel is good, from the same development program as Jewel. So is Honeoye. But you will find it hard to improve on the productivity and quality of Jewel, although like most of the berries grown around here it is a little tart and requires some sugar to bring out the strawberry taste.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 1:22PM
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macheske(6/7 NorthernVA)

Thanks for all the answers!

I've comtemplated putting down plastic for the weeds but decided that I would mulch and pull weeds by hands at least for a couple years until I get the amount of plants that I want. I also put in a drip system so that I wouldn't be watering too many weeds.

I'll go ahead and plant a second 40' row this fall from the runners as well as fill in this row to 9" spacing. The new row will be 18" spacing so that I can fill it in and always have at least half the plants with full yields of berries on them.

I fenced my garden so deer don't bother my plants. Even though the fence is only 6' tall I put a trellis in every 20' so they don't think they could get out if they jumped in. So far, it's worked even though they will eat anything that grows close to the fence (pole beans on the fence were not a good idea :) )

I was a little surpised that we got berries this year too. They were bare root plants. We ended up with about 10 quarts from 25 plants. A few of them didn't produce anything but most produced quite a few.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 5:37PM
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Here's another vote for black plastic in VA (albiet from a less experienced source). I've got a 2 year old patch with a soaker hose that is very low maintenance. I've also done a few hills in my vegetable garden without plastic and definitely would be scared of weeds on a much larger scale. This year I put in a 200 plants in rows with heavy landscape cloth (to let the soil breathe and rain through) with soaker hose underneath, which seems to work well (but will need straw on top to protect it from UV for longer life). Also, I couldn't tell from your post if you were contemplating this, but it would be extremely difficult to add plastic sheeting mulch on top of established plants. I really enjoy the taste of Earliglow and Honeoye(but haven't knowingly tried many others).


    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 2:16PM
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I want to thin my strawberries. I live in NE Indiana. I have a 4' x 7' bed that is now completely full. 2nd year. Should I thin now/compost and cover with straw or wait til spring to thin? Any help would be much appreciated.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2011 at 8:30PM
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