Last week we were laboring away weeding around lettuce and spinach in the hoop house when we received a package of bare root strawberries. The hoop house was feeling great that spring day as the temperature was around 65°F outside, and we were ready to quit after six hours of weeding, but bare root strawberries cannot wait to get their roots in soil. Nurseries usually ship plants in bare root form when they are dormant to save on shipping costs. With the box of bare root strawberries in hand, we quit weeding and proceeded to plan out a space to put twenty-five strawberry plants in the ground.
San Andreas strawberries were the type we received that afternoon from Nourse Farms. The San Andreas strawberry is known as a moderate day-neutral variety with good vigor, high and constant productivity, good disease resistance, producing very firm large berries with great flavor, and is best suited for planting zones 4 – 7. The day neutral aspect implies the plants will bear fruit 12 to 14 weeks after planting, and will continue to produce berries until temperatures exceed 90°F, but will fruit again when temperatures decrease in the fall.
The strawberries were ordered before we arrived to our intern positions, and we had a miscommunication prevent us from being well informed on the desired location to put the strawberries in the ground. Otherwise, when planting bare root strawberries, the best course of action is to get the strawberry bed prepped one to three months prior to planting. As soon as we got the strawberry package, we researched the planting guidelines to determine proper plant spacing and soil conditions. The San Andreas variety we received requires a well-drained soil with pH of 6.5 – 6.8, and eighteen inches of spacing between plants.
Bed preparation for planting bare root strawberries turned out to be quicker than we had imagined. The plan is to relocate these strawberries later in the year, so we just made a temporary home for the plants to endure the summer heat. There was an empty, mulched, well-drained bed with soft soil hidden away in the southeast corner of our crop field, so we selected this location due to an impending thunderstorm looming over the horizon. In under an hour we had removed all the mulch, weeds, grasses, and roots from a three-foot wide by fourteen-foot wide bed to plant the bare root strawberries. We proceeded to create twenty-five holes eighteen inches apart from each other for the plants, and then we made the slurry to dip the roots in prior to covering with soil. Planting bare root strawberries wouldn’t be that simple for us though. We expected to receive 25 bare root plants, but the package actually contained 50 bare root plants, so we had to spend another hour doubling the size of our planting bed before planting the bare root strawberries.
After preparing the bed for planting 50 bare root strawberries, we were ready to get the plants in the ground. The roots of strawberry plants cannot be J-rooted, curled, buried too deep or too shallow. We used posthole diggers to make over-sized holes to ensure the roots were placed deep enough with appropriate spacing. We were sure to measure and place the strawberry crowns in the center of the holes to achieve an 18” distance between plants. Keeping the soil line at the middle of the crown is another important aspect of planting bare root strawberries, and this was difficult due to the lack of vegetation on some of the plants received.
A thunderstorm interrupted our planting with just four plants to go, so we stored them bagged, boxed and in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning we planted the remaining four strawberries, and proceeded to apply straw mulch very generously. We made sure not to cover the crowns of our plants, but the plants are still difficult to see through the mulch. The plants will require watering about three times per week, and we will need to ensure the straw mulch does not shift to cover any of the plants.