Growing Strawberries in Victoria
A classic, easy to grow fruit, strawberries can be grown in even the smallest home gardens. They also thrive in hanging baskets and a variety of containers. There are over 45 varieties, try Kunowase, Cambridge or Alinta for Victoria.
Strawberry plants are prone to getting viral and fungal diseases, so allowing your strawberries to become over-crowded, or the beds to be filled with dead leaves and weeds will make the them more susceptible to these diseases.
Strawberries are actually a cool climate crop, so you may need to set up some shade cloth to protect your plants from the intense summer sun.
Strawberries prefer acid soils, but will grow in a variety of conditions. To prepare the soil, dig in compost and well-matured manure; then add rock dust and potash. Avoid high nitrogen fertilisers, and areas which have previously been used to grow beans, peas and other legumes, or any other berries.
For planting, dig out a bed, put down some sheep manure, with several handfuls of blood and bone, then compost and finish with the original soil in a mound about 15cm high. Plant crowns on top of the mounds.
Chill in the freezer for 2-4 weeks before planting.
Growing strawberries from seed is not for the impatient gardener, as most plants grown from seed will only bear fruit a year after planting (or 5 months in the case of Alpine strawberries). Its usually quicker and easier to grow strawberries from crowns or runners.
Get your plants in as early in the season as you can to give them time to become established before spring arrives.
Plant the crowns at ground level and make sure all the roots are covered.
Propagating strawberry plants is easy and can be incredibly rewarding. You can use one of 3 methods:
1.Once more crowns begin to grow from the base of the plant, separate them carefully and then replant where you want them.
2.Propagate from runner. This is the safest and easiest method of propagating strawberry plants. Simply guide one of the runners from an established plant into a neighbouring pot or container with nutritious soil and wait for it to establish a strong root system. The runner will eventually dry up and break off, and you will be free to move the pot to its new home. If you're impatient: just wait till you seed good growth and then then snip the runner to free the new plant from the parent plant.
3. Grow new plants from seeds from your previous harvest.
Remove runners and dead leaves during fruiting season to increase fruit production. Take the plants out of the ground every year, replant in a new bed, and use runners to propagate new plants.
Drip irrigating works wonderfully for strawberries. Keep the soil moist by watering regularly, but avoid over-watering, as this can make the fruit rot and attract snails. When the bulk of the harvest is nearly ripe, avoid heavy soaking to increase the flavour. Watering too much during this phase might mean bigger fruit, but a decrease in flavour.
Fertilise in autumn with compost and worm castings if available. Apply liquid seaweed fortnightly- it protects the leaves from frosts and some pests, and even sweetens the fruits. Feed with liquid potash when flowers appear to sweeten fruit.
Plastic mulch, with holes perforated for the plants is an option. This will help to control weeds and keeps the plants warm, but it can also impact soil health negatively, and does not biodegrade. The natural alternative is clean straw mulch, which can be added closely around the plants. Pine needle mulch around the plants is also a good option, because it increases soil acidity.
Different varieties will be ready to harvest at different times. Most strawberries ripen in spring, but some varieties may produce fruit all the way into autumn. You can expect to pick the first fruit 20-35 days after the flowers appear. Wait until the fruit are shiny and have developed a good colour and then pick them by cutting the stem. Once picked, they will keep in the refrigerator for 3 -5 days.