Planting Strawberries in May

May is the traditional month when new seasons strawberry plants become available in New Zealand. The nurseries that grow the plants lift them once the autumn rains have moisten the soil sufficiently and they are then distributed to garden centres.

In seasons when the growing beds are too dry the plants are not lifted until later making for late plantings. I find that the sooner you can get your new strawberry plants into the new beds the better results you have the first season. Gardeners with existing beds of strawberries will likely have a number of runners that have happily rooted in; these can be used for new season plants.

If the existing strawberry bed is not congested with old and new plants (that there is ample room still for all the plants to grow and produce) then you can get away with not lifting the runners or only lifting those that are too close to existing plants.

Strawberries are easy to grow and can be grown in open ground or containers. In open ground the most practical way is to make a bed with wood surrounds 16 to 20 cm tall and have a hinged frame over the bed that has either plastic bird netting or wire netting over the lid. The whole frame needs to only sit on the soil so it can be moved if required. If using tanalised timber for the surround then, after cutting to size, paint all the wood with a couple of coats of acrylic paint.

Planting Strawberries

Strawberries can be grown in troughs about 16 to 20 wide and as long as required. Special strawberry planters made from clay or plastic are generally not very good and your results are likely to be poor. (By that I mean the types where plants are placed in holes around the container as well as on top.)

Polystyrene boxes with holes in the bottom make good containers for good crops if they have a rooting depth of 15cm or more. The growing medium should be a good compost to which you can add untreated sawdust and a little clean top soil or vermicast (Worm casts from a worm farm). A mix of about 75% compost, 20% sawdust and 5% vermicast is good value.

Mix the above in a wheelbarrow then place a layer of the mix 5 cm deep in the base of the trough or container. Now sprinkle a layer of chicken manure, some potash,  BioPhos, Rok Solid and Ocean Solids. If you do not have chicken manure available use sheep manure pellets and blood & bone.
Cover with more compost mix to a depth suitable for planting your new strawberry plants.
A similar process can be applied to an open bed with a frame, though the frame height may need to be taller than previously suggested.

Ensure that the soil at the base of the frame is free of most weeds and then place a layer or two of cardboard over the soil. This will help prevent weeds from coming up in the bed. Then fill the bed as suggested.

There are a number of different varieties of strawberry plants available to the home gardener. There are the older varieties such as Tioga and Redgaunlet (both are hard to come by now) and the newer varieties such as Chandler, Pajaro and Seascape.

The varieties of strawberries available in New Zealand has been limited in the past compared to internationally, but now some more types are available to the home gardener through the work of a New Zealand nursery under the name of ‘Incredible Edibles’. These include; Strawberry Baby Pink™  which produces stunning beautiful pink flowers followed by small to medium red fruit with a sweet traditional flavour and large bunches of berries ripening over a long period.