Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting strawberries (again)

Every year for the past three or four years, I've dutifully ordered bareroot strawberry plants, and every year I plant them. And every year they died.

Besides grasshoppers, deer, and roving cattle, the primary reason they die is our nasty clay soil. We've spent a lot of time amending the garden soil with composted manure, but the spots where I plant the strawberries never seemed to get the good stuff.

So, bottom line, we decided to take an aggressive approach to our small fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries). We built raised beds.

That's all fine and dandy, but what to put IN the raised beds? Our soil is so heavy and clay-y that I didn't want the poor strawberries stuck in that stuff, even if it was amended with composted manure.

So we bit the bullet and bought twelve cubic yards of topsoil. I don't like spending money if we can avoid it, but since we're building long-term permanent beds, we wanted to give the plants the greatest possible advantage.

This is river-bottom soil and should make excellent bedding when mixed with composted manure, of which we have (cough) a plentitude.

But before we put the soil in the beds, I wanted to make sure the beds wouldn't be infested with weeds or varmints. The varmints (moles and voles) can be discouraged with hardware cloth, a fine-mesh wire "fence" that is laid down on the ground to keep anything from burrowing up from beneath.

First we measured each bed.

Then we custom-cut the mesh to fit.

(Don used a saws-all with a metal-cutting blade.)

The weeds could be discouraged with newspapers. The prairie grasses around here can be aggressive and strong, so I layered the bottoms of the beds with newspapers, fairly thickly. The day was breezy so I anchored the papers with the mesh as I went. The papers will eventually decompose, but in the meanwhile they will kill the grasses that try to push up through the beds.

Then I started trundling wheelbarrows of dirt to the beds.

It took five wheelbarrows to fill the beds about 1/3 full.

Next I pitched up some composted manure...

...which also took five wheelbarrows to spread over the beds. The depth is now 2/3 full.

Then I put another five wheelbarrows of topsoil on the top of the manure. The beds are now layered. I decided not to mix the layers because the strawberry roots will easily spread down into the composted manure, maximizing exposure to the nutrients.

Next came preparing the strawberries. Here are the 200 plants.

With bareroot strawberries, it's best to soak the roots for awhile to rehydrate them. I plopped them in bowls of water...

...while I worked on the second bed.

After the strawberry roots had soaked for a couple of hours, I laid them all out in the pattern I would be planting, before doing the actual planting (so I could tweak and adjust the layout as necessary).

Before planting bareroot strawberries, it is recommended that the roots get trimmed. Don't ask me why, I think it's along the same principle as why you trim the stems of cut flowers before putting them in a vase. Something to do with improved water absorption, I think.

Roots, untrimmed:

Roots, trimmed:

It took a long time to get 200 plants in the ground and my back ached from bending over the boxes by the time I was done. But they're in! And after a nice watering, they're looking rather perky (for bare roots, that is). I'm happy -- it looks like we might have successful strawberries at last!


  1. i admire you for your tenacity(which you seem to have plenty of-LOL!) I hope you have wonderful success. I planted a few but instead of the clay issues we have rocks and more rocks so we decided that next winter we will be working on raised beds.I will be interested in seeing how things work out using the hardware cloth.

  2. Okay, now you're talking my language: gardens!

    Since I'm a semi-vegetarian, my garden is really important to me. When you garden, you literally alter the very face of the planet with your bare hands! Wow, the power is almost overwhelming.

    Contrary to your proclamations about your black thumb, I think you DO know what you're doing. These beds are terrific.

    (You have fencing around your new beds, right? Moles and voles aren't the only critters that LOVE strawberries. Birds, rabbits and mice will give you a run for your money. My tiny strawberry patch - about 1/4 the size of yours, but getting bigger by the day - is always under constant attack. Chicken wire is our friend...)

    Just Me

  3. Patrice, just thought that I would share what we have learned over the years. We raise strawberries too (had an awesome year)and I realize that Okie climate and Idaho climate are totally different languages, but one thing that we have found makes all the difference is sand and peat moss. Even if you have topsoil, sprinkle a layer of sand and then one of peat moss onto your rows and work that in. It helps with drainage and strawberries need good drainage. Also, we have found that mulching between the rows is important to hold in moisture and to keep them cool in the heat. Also, we use horse manure on our beds, but if we could get sheep manure that would be even better. We are not crazy about cow manure. However, we have also found that we have to use a commercial fertilizer of 13-13-13 for the strawberries as well. They are kinda persnickity. I know your winters are harsh, and ours can be, so we cover the plants before the frost sets in with straw or leaves.

    Next year, after you clean off the covering, when your plants come up (hate to tell you this) pull off all of the flowers so that the plants do not produce. If you will do that, you will have bigger, healthier strawberries the next year. As they put out runners, plant the ends in the rows and get them started and then clip the runner part. That keeps your rows in line and not meandering all over the place. You will pick off the flowers of those new plants the following year. So in other words, you'll have berries from the two year old plants and none from the one year old each year. Does that make sense? Not trying to tell you what to do, but just sharing what we learned the hard way over the past 15 years of strawberries!! Good luck!! :-)

  4. Thanks OPCCook, this is EXACTLY the kind of info I need. I'm afraid I'll have to stick with cow manure since that's what we have, but I didn't know about clipping the runners and starting new plants. I'd heard about pinching off the blossoms for the first years (pause to wipe a tear away) and though it breaks my heart, I'll do that. I want these babies to be as strong and healthy and productive as they can be.

    - Patrice

  5. Looking good Patrice, good luck!

    OPCCook thanks for the good advice :)


  6. OPCCook - thanks for the info, I just came back to this post to ask Patrice some of the questions you answered. I am going to hopefully get me a little strawberry patch started, but wasn't sure what to do for the winter after the plants the new plants will just grow up where the old ones were? I know you don't pull the whole plants out or that would defeat the purpose, but I wasn't sure what needed to be done...thanks!