The Country

The traditional and very effective method of growing strawberries is to cover the raised mound with black polythene plastic or weed mat making a small slit for each plant. The black mulch attracts heat increasing soil temperature making fruiting earlier and the fruit clean from dirt. CULTURAL NOTES Strawberry plants will produce significantly more fruit if they are watered and fertilised regularly. Like many plants you can buy a specially blended fertiliser such as “Tui Strawberry Food”. While they like to be well drained, plants will need to be watered during the summer months. . Strawberry plants will produce good crops for three years after which time the “mother” plants are best thrown out. The plants will generally produce runners each season during late summer. In the first year it is beneficial for the next year’s fruit production if these are removed before growing too much as they will drain the plant of energy that will benefit next season’s fruit. However in the 2nd and third season saving some runners and replanting will allow you to replenish or enlarge your strawberry patch. For plants that are starting their 2nd or third season, all the dead leaves from the previous season should be pruned off and removed during winter. This helps minimise the hosting of pests and diseases. Plants should then be fertilised in August or early September. Strawberries are relatively pest free, just keep an eye out for slugs during spring which may eat the new leaves, and the occurrence of aphids and mites during the summer months, which may require control using bee friendly “Yates Mavrik”. Planting strawberries is ironically a great way to attract birds. Bird control is essential but seems to be an area where many people come unstuck. The most effective method is to construct a frame on which bird netting may be draped. The frame needs to be able to hold the bird netting at least 30cm above the plants so when birds sit on the cloth they are not able to reach through and eat those precious berries. The netting also needs to be secured around the base to stop entry. How many to plant? A rule of thumb is to plant five plants for each family member. If you want to eat bowlfuls every night during summer then plant more! Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre