The Best Time to Plant Strawberries
You have not tasted a real strawberry until you bite into a juicy, sweet homegrown one. Maybe that is why strawberries are one of the most commonly grown plants in backyard gardens. Adding this delicious fruit to your garden, patio, or deck is simpler than you might think. One of the first steps to growing them is learning the best time to plant them.
Important Choices Before Planting
Most gardeners choose to start their strawberry growing journey with plants that were purchased in a local or distant nursery. Some are fortunate to receive them from a friend or family member. Different circumstances determine the best method of planting for each gardener. Here are four methods of planting strawberry plants:
Plants from Seeds
Strawberry plants can be started from purchased seeds or from seeds on a strawberry. Many seed companies offer seeds from productive varieties. If using seeds from a strawberry, do not use the seeds from hybrid strawberries.
Germination of strawberry seeds can be a challenge. Experienced strawberry growers implement germination with a few tricks that increase the success rate. Success is when seeds germinate in two to three weeks, but be patient because seed may take a week or two longer to germinate.
Strawberry seeds are capable of germinating in outdoor garden soil, but it is not a surety. Greater germination is achieved with indoor sown seeds. To harvest strawberries the first season, sow seeds indoors in the winter. A March or April sowing will work, but you probably will not be picking berries that season.
Three weeks after the last frost in your area is a safe time to plant your newly grown transplants outdoors. Before planting, the transplants should have three true leaves. To prepare the tender transplants for the outside environment, they should be set out more and more each day. This is called hardening off.
Plants from Runners
New strawberry plants can be started from runners. Runners are long, leafless stalks that originate from the established (mother) strawberry plants of the June bearing and day-neutral varieties of strawberries. Everbearing varieties usually produce no runners. One June bearing strawberry plant can produce up to 120 daughter plants per season.
Runners spread outward above the surface of the soil of a garden or downward in container grown strawberry plants. At the end of each runner, there is a tiny plantlet capable of being rooted and becoming an independent plant.
Each tiny plantlet on the runners has tiny roots. The plantlet can be gently pressed into the surrounding garden soil or into a container filled with a soilless potting mixture. New leaves will begin to grow. In four to six weeks, it can be cut free from the mother plant.
The new plant can be dug up then moved to a new location or remain where it is growing. You might not harvest any berries during the season the new plant is established, but the following season should yield a large harvest of sweet strawberries. Using runners to propagate new plants saves money and keeps the strawberry patch producing.
Dormant Bare-root Crowns
Another option for beginning your strawberry garden is planting dormant bare-root crowns. Many online and mail-order stores sell the best cultivars in the bare-root crown stage. These stores will ship the dormant crowns at the appropriate time for your USDA Zone.
Dormant bare-root crowns should be planted very soon after receiving them or kept covered in the refrigerator for no longer than a few days. Don’t be concerned if the plants look dead. Green plant growth will appear in approximately one week.
Dormant bare-root crowns should be planted in late winter to early spring or when night temperatures consistently stay above 25°F(-4°C). Some colder regions may have to postpone planting until after the ground thaws and becomes workable. Once the dormant bare-root crown is planted, late spring frosts usually don’t damage them.
Green potted transplants usually arrive at local garden centers when it is time to plant in your area. Several plants are usually in one pot. These plants can safely be separated and become many thriving mother plants.
Potted transplants are less tolerant of the cold than dormant bare-root crowns. In the cooler USDA Zones 3-6, it is best to plant transplants in the ground after all threat of frost is over. Growing them in containers, excluding vertical wall planters, will allow earlier than normal planting. If frost threatens, the containers can be covered or moved indoors.
Transplants should be planted in the ground from December to April in USDA Zones 7-10. The exact planting time will differ depending on which USDA Zone you live in.
USDA Zones Specific Times to Plant
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is an invaluable gardener’s tool that shows with great detail the average annual minimum winter temperature in every United States zip code. Just type in your zip code on an interactive map to learn what zone you live in. Once you know your zone, you can choose the proper strawberry variety for your location.
Knowing your USDA Zone can also guide you to planting at the proper times. The ideal times to plant strawberries has been established by the United States Department of Agriculture. Here are their recommendations for growing in specific USDA Zones:
- USDA Zones 3-4: Plant from early May to the middle of May.
- USDA Zone 5: Plant from early April to early May.
- USDA Zone 6: Plant from early March to the middle of April.
- USDA Zone 7: Plant from December through early April.
- USDA Zone 8: Plant from December through the middle of March.
- USDA Zones 9-10: Plant from December through February.
Too Late to Plant
So when is it too late to plant? The answer depends on where you live. No matter where you live, it is always too late to plant strawberries when the temperature is very hot. Strawberries thrive in temperatures of 60°F(16°C) to 80°F(27°C). High temperatures quickly drain strawberry plants of the moisture needed to stay productive.
It is too late to plant strawberry plants when garden centers, online stores, and mail-order companies don’t have any to sell. Most of these companies will have bare-root crowns or transplants for only a short period of time at planting time. Early planning and purchasing is the key to getting the best strawberry plants or crowns on time.
Strawberry growers who plant in the fall should plant before winter arrives. Even though mild, the winter chill will not allow optimal root system development. Healthy roots will produce healthy plants which yield plentiful strawberry crops.
Breaking the Planting Recommendation Rules
Researchers are learning that it is feasible to successfully plant strawberries in the fall fairly far north. If the transplant establishes a good root system before any hard freeze, the possibility of the mulched plants surviving through the winter is high.
A mid-November strawberry planting at the Geneva (New York) Experiment Station demonstrated that plants did more than survive: they sometimes doubled the yields of their spring plantings of plants freshly dug in the spring.
New York is not the only Northern state having successful fall plantings of strawberries. As far north as Michigan, success is happening with plantings between mid-September and mid-October.
Southwest Missouri commercial growers have experienced profitable seasons by planting strawberry plants in November. These plants produce a row that is superior to spring-set-plants and there is a greater yield when the growing season is a dry one.
Advantages of Fall Planting
Besides higher yields, there are other advantages to fall planting of strawberries. When you plant in the fall, the soil is still workable and the weather is usually better. Fall planted strawberries produce many more runners than spring planted plants do. These runners have been found to be more productive than runners formed later.
Flower blossoms on spring-planted strawberry plants are usually removed. This is usually done so that the soil’s nutrients can go to forming a strong, healthy plant that will eventually yield abundant fruit. Early fall (August or September) planted strawberry plants’ blossoms do not have to be removed. The result is fruit in the first season.
Disadvantages of Fall Planting
Fall strawberry planting has its disadvantages also. One of the main disadvantages is the lack of plants and bare-root crowns available. Nurseries are beginning to recognize the need for plants in the fall.
A second disadvantage is that more plants need to be planted to compensate for those that do not make it through the winter. Freezing temperatures can damage or kill even the most protected plants.
Another disadvantage is the need to heavily mulch the plants. This is time-consuming and an extra expense. The colder regions will need more mulch than the warmer ones.