Fresh strawberries are at their best when an organic gardener grows strawberry plants in a garden free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Fresh organic strawberries from the home garden are far superior to the bloated supermarket variety with little fragrance and a white core. Strawberry plants take little care once established, and can produce baskets of berries for years.
Choose Strawberry Varieties
Before an organic gardener shops for strawberry plants, he must consider disease resistance, growing region, and whether to purchase June-bearing or ever-bearing strawberry plants.
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Gardeners in hot, humid regions can grow ‘Titan,’ which resists leaf scorch. ‘Earliglow’ is an excellent choice for gardeners in the Midwest and Atlantic regions, as it is not only cold hardy, but resists gray mold, verticilium wilt, red stele disease, leaf spot, and leaf scorch. Gardeners seeking ever-bearing strawberries can plant ‘Hecker’ in the north or ‘Tristar’ in the south.
Prepare the Garden to Plant Strawberries
Strawberry plants thrive in well-drained soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. If the soil pH is above 6.0, acidify it naturally with compost and leaf mold. If the soil is below 5.0, add limestone to raise the pH. Choose an area of the garden with full sun and good air circulation to reduce disease problems.
Plant strawberries in the spring as soon as the earth can be worked, setting plants 18 inches apart in rows spaced at least two feet apart. Wide rows allow strawberry plants room to develop new runners.
Organic Strawberry Plant Care
After planting strawberries, add a layer of organic mulch to retain moisture and to keep soil from splashing on ripening berries. Many organic gardeners prefer to mulch strawberry beds with straw, but dried grass clippings or pine needles are also suitable choices.
The fertilizing regimen for strawberries centers on whether the plants are June-bearing or ever-bearing. Ever-bearing strawberries need a constant supply of nutrients to produce flowers and grow berries, but June berries only form new buds for the following year in late summer.
Therefore, feed ever-bearing strawberries throughout the growing season, but fertilize June-bearing strawberries in August. Gardeners can fertilize plants with a side dressing of dried blood meal, rock potash, and bone meal.
At the end of the season, the strawberry plants will send out new plantlets on runners. In this way, the strawberry patch is self-perpetuating. Remove nonproductive plants at the end of each growing season, and allow the runners to replenish the garden.
Organic Strawberry Pest Control
Slugs, aphids, spider mites, and birds like to feed on strawberry plants. Place beer traps around plants or sprinkle diatomaceous earth to kill slugs.
Attract beneficial insects that have an appetite for aphids with nectar-rich flowers, like sweet alyssum.
Spider mites are most problematic in hot, dusty regions, so regular irrigation discourages them. Use bird netting draped over jar-topped stakes to deny birds the first berry harvest.