Day Neutral Strawberry Maintenance
Early this spring, I purchased bare root strawberry plants from RainTree Nursery for our garden. I had been growing Albion strawberries in our garden the last few years, and it was time to replace them. Albions are a day neutral variety, which means they fruit throughout the growing season (up until the first fall frost) and send out far fewer runners than their June bearing cousins. Day neutral varieties do need to be replaced every few years as they decline in fruit production after three or four growing seasons. Typically, if you go to a U-Pick farm, you will find that you are picking a June bearing variety...meaning that their fruiting season is short and all at once, happening only in the month of June (or late May depending on the weather).
For the backyard grower, you can't go wrong with either June bearing or day neutral varieties. When selecting my new plants for the garden, I decided to stick with a day neutral variety. I like that I can go out and pick strawberries throughout the summer. I planted Seascapes and Tristars, both of which have been shown to grow well here in the PNW and be super tasty.
Day neutral varieties require a little different care than June bearing varieties. Because they do not send out as many runners, you can plant them much closer together. Day neutral strawberries should be planted every 12 to 15 inches apart. When planting from bare root, you will want to clip off the initial flush of flowers in the spring. This allows the plant to put more energy into developing it's root system. When your plants begin to send out runners in the summer, make sure to remove these 'daughter' plants. You do need to wait to remove the runners until they have developed small roots, but before they have actually rooted into the ground. If you remove the runners before they have developed small roots (see the small, cream colored roots in the photo above), it signals to the plants to send out even more runners. If you wait until the runners have rooted into the ground, you can weaken the mother plant. It is wise to scan your strawberry bed every two to three weeks for runners that need to be snipped off. I like to use a pair of scissors to do this.
If you keep your plants well watered (an inch to inch and a half of water each week), you will get a small crop of berries your first season. But the first 'fruiting' season will not officially start until the next summer. You can plan on your plants supplying you with delicious red fruit for around four growing seasons. After this time, you will need to plan on replacing them with a new crop of bare root plants. The cost to replace your plants is minimal. A bundle of 25 bare root plants typically runs around $15. This small cost is worth knowing that you are keeping your strawberry bed vigorous and disease free.
If you would like to read more about the different types of strawberries, how and when to plant them and how to manage the space, Oregon State University Extension has a fantastic publication: Growing Strawberries in Your Home Garden.