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Try growing strawberries this season

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Strawberries are one of the most delicious home garden fruits to grow. They are cold-hardy and adaptable, making them one of the easiest berries to grow.

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While most fruit trees take several years to begin bearing, you can harvest your own strawberries the very first summer. And even if you live in an apartment or small home, you can grow strawberries in a container on your balcony, rooftop, patio or even doorstep.

If your horizontal space is limited, consider growing strawberries in a hanging basket or stacked planter, which will allow you to take advantage of vertical growing space as the strawberry plants tumble out over the sides.

There are two main varieties of strawberries: June-bearing and ever-bearing.

The June-bearing variety bears all at once, usually over a period of about three weeks. Because of their earliness, high quality and concentrated fruit set, June-bearers, like Allstar, produce high yields of large, sweet berries in late mid-season, which is usually late spring and early summer, depending on the geographic region. These are the best variety for preserving.

Ever-bearing strawberries produce a big crop from spring flowers, set light flushes of fruit through summer and then bloom and bear again in late summer and fall. These are perfect for large containers or raised beds, where you can give them attentive watering and regular feeding.

The EverSweet variety offers large berries ripening in abundance. Savor a long harvest, with fruits ripening from late spring until frost.

Quinalt, a popular variety of ever-bearing strawberry, offers large, soft, deliciously sweet fruit, ideal for preserves or fresh eating.

New this spring, there are two compact varieties that don’t produce many runners, making them both suited for containers.

Tristan: This eye-catching, edible ornamental shows unusual pink blooms that fade to form sweet, medium-size strawberries.

Loran: White blooms fade to form large, deep red, cone-shaped berries on this ever-bearing variety. Harvest stretches all season long, with fruits ripening from late spring until frost.

For more information on growing strawberries, as well as vegetables and herbs, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

PLANTING TIPS

● When planting strawberries, be sure the crown is above soil level and the upper-most roots are 1/4 inch beneath soil level.

● Strawberry plants should be placed approximately 14 to 18 inches apart from each other in neat rows that are separated by 2-3 feet each. Let runners fill in until plants are 7-10 inches apart.

● Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.

● To keep it simple, plant strawberries in a container. However, container plantings need more water than in-ground plantings, usually once a day; twice if it’s hot. Strawberries have a relatively small root ball and can be grown in containers as small as 10-12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you will need to water. Synthetic and light colored pots will keep the roots cooler than dark colors and natural materials that conduct heat.

● Strawberries like well-drained fairly rich soil. Add compost or other organic matter when preparing the pot or patch.

● They need 6-8 hours of full sun per day and frequent, deep soakings. They will grow in all zones and should be fed twice a year, when growth begins and after the first crop.

● Control slugs and snails by handpicking them off plants and prevent theft from birds by covering your patch with netting as the first berries ripen.

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