Who doesn’t love a juicy, red, ripe strawberry? Most gardeners welcome their concentrated harvest that comes fast and furious in June (or a bit earlier in some of the warmest southern states) but lament how fast it is over; here for Father’s Day, gone by Fourth of July.
Did you know you can eat your strawberries now and have more fresh later in the summer too? Yes, right from your own garden! Let’s look at the different types of strawberries and where they might fit in your garden plan.
June-bearing strawberry varieties set fruit buds in response to the shortening day length and cooler temperatures of autumn. They then flower and produce their crop the following summer. The crop ripens during a concentrated time period of just a few weeks, typically in mid-June to early July. Hence, they are referred to as “June-bearers.” Within this large group, there are many varieties. With proper planning and selection of varieties, it is quite possible to extend the harvest for an extra week or two beyond the main season. Choose an early flowering and maturing variety, such as Earliglow, to start the harvest. Add a mid-season variety or two, Cavendish or Jewel are favorites, for the bulk of your patch. If you hunger for still more berries, a late season June-bearer can round out your harvest and extend it into mid-July.
June-bearing strawberries should be given a year to establish a strong rot system and plant before producing a crop. In subsequent years, after harvest, they will produce runner plants and tend to form dense, matted rows of plants. With annual renovation, a patch of June-bearing strawberries will remain productive for 4 to 5 years. They are especially suited to the homestead garden where you have the space to grow several different varieties of berries in multiple rows. Due to their relatively concentrated harvest and large volume of fruit, they easily provide ample fruit for making jam or stocking your freezer for winter.
The term ever-bearing is a bit of a misnomer. As plant breeders sought to develop varieties that would produce over a longer time period, they discovered several varieties that, in addition to the tradition June crop, also produced a smaller crop of fruit later in the summer, usually about a month after the main crop. Even though, they did not yield a continuous season-long crop, they were termed ever-bearing. Ozark Beauty and Quinalt have been popular, disease-resistant choices in this group. You might enjoy these ever-bearing strawberries if you want to do the bulk of your jam making early in the season and then enjoy a few additional fresh strawberries along side your other summer fruit harvest.
As plant breeders continued the search for season-long strawberries, they more recently selected for varieties that did not set their buds in the limited time frame of the shorter autumn days, but rather set buds in small quantify over all but the very hottest weeks of summer. These new berries were “day (light) neutral.” They produce very few runner plants, putting their energy instead into continuos fruit production. Although the plants will produce for several years, they are often grown as annuals. This makes them very suitable for container planting and small urban gardens. Day neutral strawberries are an excellent choice if you’d prefer an ongoing, small supply of fruit for fresh eating and are less interested in a marathon jam making session.
Frais de Bois, Wood, Alpine or Wild Strawberries
These novelty berries were once coveted by nobility for their intense sweet flavor. Berries, depending on variety, are red or sometimes pale yellow with pineapple-like flavor. Their popularity probably declined due to the small berry size, mainly under an inch long and tedious to pick. The plants do not typically produce runners but are instead produced from seed. Once established they reseed readily and produce copious new plantlets. They can be used for edging borders, in containers such a s window boxes, or contained in an herb garden. You may have to weed some out occasionally to contain them to their assigned space. These jewel-like gems are perfect for that special novelty touch to top a dessert or to enjoy with fresh cream.
No matter your space or growing environment—city balcony, suburban yard or rural homestead—there’s a strawberry for you!
Adapted from The BackYard Berry Book: A complete guide to growing berries, brambles and vine fruit in the home garden by Stella Otto