Dreaming of Strawberry Shortcakes

A member of one of the facebook plant groups I read regularly, announced with glee “ONLY 5 more months until spring!”. That kind of statement is enough to make this New England gardener throw herself in front of the first snow plow she sees a bit anxious. Keeping myself busy with garden chores that will make the ‘in’ season easier is key to passing time in the ‘off’ season. So I make lists. Things that I know need to be done, but may forget as the garden goes more and more dormant.

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My best garden helper and chief fertilzer producer, Gandalf, joined me in the garden.

Today I got to cross one of those things off the list as I reset my strawberry garden. Strawberries seem like one of those fruits that you can plant and then let grow while you collect buckets and buckets of strawberries every summer, right? They are, after all, perennials. AND  they do keep making more of themselves by sending out Mini-Me’s on runners. Endlessly. Unfortunately, all that replication will make them start to choke themselves. Plus, the original strawberry plant I planted had a life expectancy of 5-6 years, and it’s been at least 7 years since I’ve dug the beds out and started over. Between the little babies everywhere and obnoxious weeds, my strawberry bed has definitely been neglected, resulting in fewer and smaller strawberries as the years have passed.

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So here’s what I do to reset a strawberry bed. I start by using a pitch fork and loosen up the soil from one end to the other. Then, on my hands and knees, I grasp the crowns of the strawberry plants, digging my fingers deep in to gather as much root as I can, gently lifting the strawberry plants out of the ground. I weed as I go, making a pile for compost and a pile of strawberries that will be replanted. Once the bed is cleaned out, it’s time to prep for planting.

I prefer the hill method of planting strawberries. It takes a little more time, but worth it in the long run.

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Sources claim that the hill method produces larger and more plentiful berries, but I prefer it because it’s easier to identify the runners (and cut them off) as they run down the hills. With the whole bed of soil loosened, I start by making a row of organic material. Today, I used manure and compost. Then, I use a hoe to mound the soil up the hill the entire length on both sides. This makes sort of a moat on either side of the row. I pat the hill from the top and the sides, kind of like making a sand castle. Before planting my little strawberries, I give the hill a light watering.

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Using my finger to make holes, I pop the strawberries into the hill, being careful to keep the crown at soil level.

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Don’t plant the strawberries too deep, keep the crown at soil level.

It is very important to mulch the strawberries, so I finish off the hill with chopped hay called Mulch Master.

Watering the newly planted strawberries is very important. I will make sure to water them until the temperatures really drop and I have no choice but to put away the garden hoses until spring. Now, my helper and I can rest assured that the strawberry beds are ready for spring, and move on to the next garden chore.

Enjoy your day….and garden on!

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Heather Thibeault is a life-long gardener, plant collector, and Burnett’s employee.

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