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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Fruit > Growing Strawberries in Minnesota Gardens

Growing strawberries in Minnesota gardens

By Dr. Emily E. Hoover, Emily S. Tepe, and Doug Foulk
Revised 2015

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About strawberries

www.strawberryplants.org

Strawberry plants consist of crowns, roots, runners, and daughter plants - in addition to leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Julie Weisenhorn

These woodland strawberries are planted among other shade-tolerant plants.

There are three types of strawberries available to the home gardener. June-bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop in mid-June to early July. Ever-bearing types produce two crops, one in early summer and the second in early fall. Day neutral plants are capable of producing flowers and thus fruit throughout most of the growing season. Of the three types, June-bearing strawberries normally produce the largest yield per season, albeit in a short period of time.

Strawberry plants usually begin flowering in mid-May in Southern Minnesota and similar areas. For June-bearing cultivars the rule of thumb is about 4 weeks from flowering to picking fruit. Day neutral and ever-bearing types begin flowering around the same time in the spring and take about the same time between flowering and harvest. The difference is that they keep flowering through the summer months.

The woodland strawberry

The woodland strawberry (scientific name Fragaria vesca) is a day neutral strawberry species. You might also see it called alpine strawberry, fraises des bois, wild strawberry, or European strawberry. The plants produce small, sweet fruit with maybe 2 to 3 fruit per plant per week.

Because many of these plants are grown from seed and thus have inherent variations, the plants can either produce runners or not. They tolerate shadier sites, and can be planted in the front of perennial beds, walkways or in containers.

Helpful hints

Cultivars

Esther Jordan

Honeoye is a classic and reliable June-bearing strawberry for northern gardens.

Many strawberry cultivars are available and can be grown with ease in home gardens. Some taste better than others; some are more winter hardy than others; some ripen in one small window in June while others produce a fruit throughout the growing season.

Here are a few of our favorite cultivars, chosen mainly for flavor and, when mulched, winter hardiness in USDA Zone 4. USDA Zone 3 is much colder and plants need additional cover to survive temperature extremes without snow cover. Although most garden centers sell strawberry plants in spring, many of the cultivars listed here are commonly available only from mail-order sources. Do a web search to find nurseries that carry the cultivars you'd like to plant.

Strawberry cultivars recommended for northern gardens. Cultivars in bold are University of Minnesota releases and include date of introduction.

Cultivar Type Hardiness in Zones
4 and 3
Description
Annapolis June-bearing Good Poor Vigorous plants produce medium-large fruit with mild, sweet flavor. Produces many runners.
Earliglow June-bearing Fair Poor Firm, glossy fruit with classic strawberry flavor. Some disease resistance. Vigorous. Great cultivar for beginners.
Jewel June-bearing Good Poor Firm, glossy fruit with excellent flavor. Tolerates molds and rots. Heavy producer.
Mesabi (1999) June-bearing Excellent Poor Large, firm berries with very good flavor. Vigorous plants. Very hardy. Few disease problems.
Winona (1997) June-bearing Very good Poor Large, firm berries with very good flavor. Recommended for difficult conditions. Good disease resistance.
Honeoye June-bearing Excellent Very good Very productive. Aromatic, large, glossy, crimson berries with excellent flavor. Disease resistant and easy to grow.
Cavendish June-bearing Excellent Very good Ripens over a long season. Produces large berries with very good flavor. Prolific runners.
Ogallala Ever-bearing Excellent Very good Vigorous plants produce soft, deep red, rich-flavored berries. Drought tolerant.
Seascape Day neutral Very good Poor Productive from early summer through fall. Bright red berries inside and out. Disease resistant. Great for containers and garden beds.
Albion Day neutral Fair Poor Medium, firm berries have excellent flavor. Produces consistently from June until frost. Great for containers or in the garden.
Alpine strawberry Day neutral Excellent Good Not a cultivar but a different type/species of strawberry. Grows well in part shade. Does not produce runners, so plants remain small.

Getting started

Buying plants

Although most garden centers sell strawberry plants in spring, many of the best cultivars for Minnesota are available only from online or mail-order sources. A quick web search will help you locate nurseries that carry the cultivars you would like to plant. These nurseries generally ship dormant, bare root plants at the appropriate time for planting in your region. Don't be alarmed when the plants arrive looking small and brown; they have not started growing yet.

Keep them moist and cool, and plant them as soon as possible. You will be relieved to see fresh green growth appearing within a week or so.

If you buy potted plants from a garden center, look for vigorous plants without any discolored or dead foliage. Keep the soil in the pot moist until planting.

Preparation

Strawberries require sun to produce fruit. Ten or more hours of sunlight each day is ideal. Plants that receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day should grow well and produce a good crop, but berries will be fewer and fruit quality reduced compared to plants receiving more sun.

Choose a site located away from trees and buildings that cast shade for more than a few hours each day. Because trees will compete for water and nutrients as well as cast shade, the strawberry bed should lay beyond the root zone of large trees. The root zone roughly corresponds to the canopy of a tree.

Before planting, a soil test will help you determine what, if any, nutrients are lacking in your soil. It's almost always a good idea to work some well-rotted compost into the soil before planting. Compost helps add nutrients to the soil, improves drainage, and increases microbial activity, all of which will benefit the plants.

Plant spacing

If planting a large number of strawberries with a goal of maximum production, you might want to follow guidelines for commercial production and plant in rows. This facilitates weed control and other management aspects you'll read about later. There are numerous methods of row planting that work well for strawberries, but by far the most common method is the matted row system. In this system, plants are spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart, in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart. Remember, June-bearing plants especially will send out many runners throughout the season and fill in the space between plants, so it's important to go with the recommended spacing, otherwise your plants will quickly become overcrowded.

If you're interested in this level of production, you might want to check out the University of Minnesota's interactive e-book entitled Cold Climate Strawberry Farming for everything you need to know about commercial strawberry production.

Strawberries in the landscape

Strawberries need not be planted in rows when incorporated into the home landscape. Day neutral types work well at the front of a perennial border or along a sidewalk or driveway. Because they produce fewer runners than June-bearing types, maintenance is minimal. Strawberry plants may also be grown as a ground cover. To grow a strawberry ground cover, space the mother plants in a grid, either 1 x 1 foot or 2 x 2 feet. The planting will require regular weeding, in the first year especially, but maintenance should be minimal after the plants are established. Strawberries grown as a ground cover may not produce quite as much fruit as those grown in rows, but the plants will add a beautiful touch to your landscape.

Planting depth

Plant dormant strawberry transplants in spring as soon as the soil is warm enough to easily get a trowel into it. Potted plants should be planted soon after purchase, after risk of frost is past. It is important to plant dormant transplants at the right depth. If the crowns are planted too shallow they lose water and can die. If the crowns are planted too deeply the leaves may not be able to emerge from the soil. If planting a growing plant bought from a nursery or garden center, simply plant at the same depth the plant was in the container.

Dietrich Wilke

Dormant transplants will have no growth, but will sprout quickly when exposed to light and warm temperatures. Plant so the center of the crown (red line) is at the soil line - the roots fully buried and growth points visible.

Dietrich Wilke

Transplants can be planted into a trench as seen here, or into holes dug for each plant.

Dietrich Wilke

This transplant has been planted at the proper depth. The roots are fully below the soil line and the growth points are visible above the soil.

Watering

After planting, firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly. Strawberries perform best when they are given the equivalent of 1 inch of rainwater per week. Use a rain gauge to monitor rainfall and irrigate with a soaker hose or overhead sprinkler if needed. One good soaking each week should suffice in most soil types. Always water early in the day so that foliage has a chance to dry before nightfall. This will help prevent leaf diseases.

Through the seasons

Remember to place or remove runners regularly throughout the season, or they will quickly take over your garden.

Spring of planting year

After planting, pinch off any flower buds that appear for the first few weeks. This allows the plant to produce leaves and roots so when the flowers are pollinated and begin to produce fruit there is enough energy in the plant to develop large, juicy strawberries.

Summer

As runners begin to appear, place them where you want the plants to fill in, and gently press the end of the runner into the soil. This will encourage the daughter plant to root where you want it to. If the plants are runnering excessively, simply cut them off with a scissors or pruning shears.

After harvest, the plants still need water to be able to photsynthesize and continue to produce leaves and initiate flowers for next year. Within a week or two of the end of harvest is a good time to thin out plants, leaving remaining plants about 6 to 8 inches apart. Remove older, woody plants and leave the younger plants for next year. This is also the time to fertilize with compost around the plants to keep them growing through the season.

Day neutral plants flower and fruit throughout the summer. If plants are not growing well, applying compost along the side of the plants will give them a boost of nitrogen. Other organic fertilizers such as blood meal can be used too.

Fall

June-bearing strawberry plants continue to grow and produce runners until the frost kills the leaves. Keep removing runner plants if there is a lot of crowding.

After the plants have entered dormancy due to cold temperatures, and the temperatures are staying below 40°F, straw mulch should be applied about 4 to 6 inches over the top of the plants. This mulch will protect the plants from extreme winter cold so they will emerge again next spring. Remember, most day neutral cultivars are not quite hardy enough to over-winter in Minnesota, but it may be worth a try. Cover these with straw just as you would June-bearing cultivars.

Winter

Winter is the time strawberry plants will rest, so there isn't much for you to do. A good snow cover on top of the straw mulch will help insulate the plants from bitter cold temperatures, so enjoy watching that snow pile up!

Spring of the second year, and beyond

Straw mulch applied to protect plants from winter cold should be removed when the snow and ice melts completely. This winter mulch makes a great summer mulch too. Rake the straw off the plants and leave it between them to help conserve water and suppress weeds as the temperatures begin to rise.

Dietrich Wilke

After raking straw mulch off in the spring, keep the straw mulch between and under plants to help retain soil moisture, prevent weeds, and give the berries a nice clean surface on which to ripen.

Follow this simple calendar of tasks to keep your strawberries healthy and productive throughout the season.

Things to do Jan Feb Mar April May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Plant dormant transplants. x x
Plant potted transplants. x x
Pinch flower buds off transplants for a few weeks.   x
Thin June-bearing plants within two weeks after harvest.     x
Apply compost to day neutral plants if needed.   x x
Remove runners from June-bearing plants as needed.     x x x x
Cover plants with straw mulch if overwintering.       x
Rake straw away as plants start to grow, leaving a little. x      

Fertilizing

If June-bearing plants do not produce many runners by mid-July this usually indicates the need for more nitrogen. You can apply compost or an organic fertilizer, such as blood meal, around the plants to increase nitrogen for plant growth.

Before plants begin to grow in the spring of the second year, another dressing of compost or organic nitrogen may be needed to encourage plant growth and fruit development.

Weeding

Because strawberries are poor competitors, keep all weeds out of the strawberry bed. Hand-weeding is recommended for home gardeners. Careful cultivation with a hoe is effective for managing weeds in strawberry plantings, but be careful not to cultivate too deeply, as the plant's shallow root system may be damaged.

Insects and other creatures

There are many different insect pests of strawberry. Some of these pests will be present every year, and some you will never see, depending on the history of your garden and surrounding landscape. The most common insect pests of strawberries in Minnesota are tarnished plant bugs, strawberry bud weevils, slugs and flower thrips.

The tarnished plant bug feeds on developing flowers, causing the deformed berries sometimes termed "nubbins" to develop. The strawberry clipper clips off flower buds in spring, thus reducing harvest. Slugs feed on ripe fruit, leaving small, deep holes in the fruit and irregular holes in foliage. Feeding by thrips causes berries to appear bronzed and seedy. Rodents and birds may cause more trouble in home strawberry plantings than insects. Large holes in ripe fruit are a good sign that these creatures are enjoying your strawberries. Pick fruit as soon as it is ripe to prevent damage.

Spotted wing drosophila has recently become a problem of strawberry and other fruits in Minnesota. For more information on this and other insect pests, see Pest management for the home strawberry patch.

Diseases and challenges

Strawberries are susceptible to fruit rots and leaf diseases. Fungi causing fruit rots infect the flowers and fruit as early as bloom time. These fungi may be kept to a minimum by planting in full sun, keeping plants from being crowded and watering early in the day to reduce the amount of water on the flowers and fruit. Using straw mulch under the plants also reduces fruit rots. Leaf diseases often have little effect on plant growth.

More information on diseases: Pest management for the home strawberry patch.

Harvest and storage

Suzanne Wold-Burkness

Berries should be red before picking. They might not all be this large, but a deep red, homegrown strawberry will always have a big flavor!

Strawberry fruit ripen from the tip towards the leafy stem end. Some cultivars have "white shoulders" because the leaves cover the fruit and do not allow for the red color to develop, but most will be completely red when ripe. Look through the plants daily once you see the red color developing and harvest ripe fruit.

Strawberries do not store for very long in the refrigerator. For best results, pick the fruit when it is dry and place fruit in refrigerator immediately. This will help extend the storage life of the berries.

Winter protection

The crown of a strawberry plant may be killed at 15°F, therefore winter protection is essential. After 2 or 3 frosts have hardened off the plants, cover them with 4 to 6 inches of weed-free straw. Snow is an excellent insulator and will be sufficient protection where snow cover is reliable, but straw is especially valuable in the shoulder seasons when bitter cold temperatures might occur without snow cover.

Rake straw away in spring when growth begins, but leave some at the base of the plants to act as the summer mulch. If a frost event is predicted after flowering begins, either re-cover the plants with straw or protect them with spun-bonded polyester fabric (row covers) intended for this purpose.

Additional resources

Downloadable eBooks

Growing fruit in the Northern Garden eBook for iPad, iPhone and Mac.
University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science
Cold Climate Strawberry Farming eBook
University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science

Pest management

Pest Management for the Home Strawberry Patch
University of Minnesota Extension
Plant Disease Clinic
University of Minnesota
What's Wrong with My Plant?
University of Minnesota Extension


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