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Master Gardener: Time to start your bountiful strawberry garden

Master Gardener: Time to start your bountiful strawberry garden

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Strawberries are the No. 1 fruit crop in Oklahoma home gardens. It’s easy to see why. They are delicious and nutritious, with one cup of strawberries providing you with more than the daily requirement for Vitamin C. That’s a win-win in my book.

When planning your new strawberry garden, you need to plant them in an area that receives full sun. Plants in areas with less than full sun will produce foliage but little fruit.

In most vegetable gardens, we like to have a soil pH of about 7, but strawberries do best in soil with a pH of between 6 to 6.5. As a result, before planting you should do a soil test to determine your soil pH so you will know if you need to add amendments to lower or perhaps raise your soil pH. However, in Tulsa County you will probably need to lower your soil pH as soil pH here tends to run high. Soil samples can be brought to our office for testing by OSU. The cost is $10. There are instructions on our website,

June-bearing varieties do the best in Oklahoma, producing their crop between early May and mid-June. These June-bearing strawberries are further divided into early, mid- and late-season varieties. To extend your season, you may want to plant a combination of early, mid and late varieties. There is another group of strawberries called everbearing, which produce their initial crop at the same time as the June-bearing ones with the addition of producing a few during the summer and then typically more again in the fall. However, the best harvests tend to come from the June bearing varieties.

It’s best to plant strawberries in Oklahoma between Feb. 1 and mid-March, but don’t plan on getting any fruit during this first year. I know this will challenge your gardener sensibilities, but you should remove all the flowers as they appear because the plants will divert nutrients to the flowers and away from the plant. But your goal in the first year is really just to help your strawberry plants get established.

During this first year, strawberry plants can generate between 30 to 50 runners, which is why the initial plants should be spaced about a foot apart. When planting, place the strawberry plants so that the crowns (where the leaves emerge from the plant) are even with the surface of the soil. Planting them too deep will cause them to rot and when planted too shallow, the roots can dry out, causing the plant to die. Water is critical for these new plants, so be sure to give them a good soaking. Because strawberries are a shallow-rooted plant, you will need to keep them hydrated with about 1 inch of water per week.

Somewhere around the first of September, apply a nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 1.5 pounds per 100 feet or row. This will provide them with the additional nutrition they need to set fruit buds for the next year.

In late December, after we have had several hard freezes, you should apply enough straw to cover your plants by about 3 to 4 inches. If you do this before the plants experience several freezes, they won’t be able to develop any cold hardiness. But after a few freezes, you should be good to go.

Leave this straw mulch in place till they begin to grow, typically in March. You may need to dig down in the straw to check on spring growth, and as soon as you detect it, remove most of the mulch. A little mulch is good for the plants and will help reduce the transmission of soil-borne diseases to the plants.

When the plants begin to bloom in the spring, you should have fruit 18 to 45 days later, depending on the variety. When harvesting, leave the caps on the fruit.

Strawberries are vulnerable to a variety of disease and insect issues. Animal pests would include aphids, spider mites, grubs, leafrollers, slugs, pillbugs and nematodes. When treating your strawberry plants for these pests, consider insecticidal soap for aphids and spider mites, Bacillus thuringiensis for grub and leafrollers, and beer traps for slugs and pillbug.

Diseases that impact strawberries would include bacterial and fungal leaf spots, powdery mildew, leaf scorch fungus, leaf blight, gray mold and other fruit rots. The best way to minimize disease issues in your strawberry plants is to purchase disease-resistant varieties, which include Allstar, Canoga, Cardinal, Delite and Earliglow. If you do develop fungal disease on your strawberries, an antifungal such as copper fungicide would be appropriate. But be sure to rotate your antifungals to prevent the development of resistance.

Something else you should consider to help add to the longevity of your strawberry bed is something we call “renovation.” To renovate your strawberry beds, you should mow off the leaves about 1 inch above the crowns within a week of the last harvest. Doing so later will destroy new leaf growth. I use a weed eater because I don’t have a lot of strawberries, but it still feels unnatural to whack the leaves off. However, doing this will help you enjoy your strawberries for years to come.

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You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or by emailing us at


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