Garden Days ~ Strawberry Patch TLC

Basket of berriesWe are well past the full June Strawberry Moon and here in Massachusetts, it’s the end of the season for these bright, scrumptious berries. The spring season came on slowly as we crawled out from under a long, deep cold winter. Some fruit and berry trees that blossomed too soon, were nipped by the cold nights in April. Fortunately, the strawberries came through just fine. They had spent a cozy winter under a pile of evergreen branches saved from my neighbors pruning of cedar, fir and soft white pine trees in the yard. This strawberry patch is four years old now. The past three years have produced a good crop of berries. Every day during this season, I harvested one to three cups of berries for the dessert table. However, the runners have spread way out of the original boundary and the plants have aged. If I want another fine year of fresh strawberries, these are the garden days for restoration and recovery for the next crop.

The best time to perform this task is soon after the berries have stopped producing fruit. In Massachusetts, this is near the 4th of July holiday. The spring rains had been fairly steady and the soil stayed moist and healthy without the need of extra watering. The only damage the patch experienced was from the pesky wood chuck who from time to time, enjoys burrowing around the patch. He doesn’t dig down, just roams through while making a selection for dessert. The patch had a flattened appearance, but insect damage has been minimal. I do not use pesticide or chemical fertilizers on the plants. I lost very few fruits to birds or insects.Strawberry Patch 002

Tools

This task requires the following tools for success:

v  Grass Shears or Hand Scythe
v  Compost
v  Fertilizer
v  Mulch
v  Peat Moss
v  Rake
v  Round garden shovel
v  Wheelbarrow

The best time of day to perform this task may be early morning or late afternoon. I did this the day after Tropical Storm Arthur passed through southern New England. The slow steady rainfall over ten hours softened up the soil considerably. The patch falls into shadow from the trees in the late afternoon and allowed for a pleasant garden time.

Task

Strawberry Patch 007This will seem horrid but the object is to cut the growth down to the nub and let the remaining stock send out new shoots. Or, put in new plantings of a variety acclimated to the area. New plantings are best purchased at the local nursery. At this time of year, there may be bargains available as nurseries will want to move out spring stocks. The best tasting berries, tend to be the smallest so that’s what I’ll be looking for to fill in gaps in the strawberry patch.

Use the garden shears to cut the plants back to about 2” above the soil. Remove all weeds as you prune the plants. Remove any dead plants. Keep going and going until the task is complete. Rake up the plant debris and put Strawberry Patch 011it on this year’s compost pile for next year’s new soil. Hopefully, you have a compost heap already with new soil to apply. If not, purchase a bag of well-rotted compost from the local nursery. Mix a 9 gallon pail full of compost with one shovel full of peat moss. Add in one cup of Espoma, Garden-Tone Plant Food. Blend this mix together in the wheelbarrow. Pour this soil mixture over the plants and rake it smooth. Repeat this process until the entire strawberry patch has a new layer of soil spread evenly over existing plants. The nubs of the cut back plants should be visible, slightly above the new soil line. If there is rain in the forecast, let Mother Nature soak in the soil mixture. If not, water in until it is wet. The watering in should not leave it sopping or running with water. Plant in new berries in the bare spots. Cover the entire patch with a mulch of shredded straw. This is a new product I found locally. While baled straw is available, it can be hard to handle and takes some wrestling to lie in properly. The shredded straw came in a large, light bag and took all of ten minutes to Strawberry Patch 015spread. What a helpful product.

Let It Be

The hardest part may be looking at this scalped patch for the next few weeks. It’s okay, let it be. The new soil and fertilizer will soak in if there are adequate rains. If not, water in with a sprinkler or watering can at least once per week. Do not let this go bone dry. Slowly, the patch will fill out and green up again. Now is the time to remove any plants that have gone outside the boundary. Dig them up! Strawberries can be awfully aggressive and want to sprawl. The original boundary was 11′ long by 4′ wide. The runners had leaped out and created an additional 3′ of strawberries. Share extra plants with garden friends.

As it is important to move the patch every few years, now may be the time to find the new location and transplant the rooted Strawberry Patch 016berries that have escaped. Select a sunny location with at least six (6) hours of direct sun. A sheltered area facing south, southeast is ideal. As strawberries may be considered a tender perennial, protection from harsh winter winds will prevent an unpleasant surprise in March when the strawberries do not wake up.

This is what it looks like now. It’s not pretty, but it’s neat and fertilized. The hottest days of the summer season are on the way. The strawberry patch is resting, renewing and restoring vital energy for next year. I will post a photo of the patch as it grows back in. Until then, keep on gardening!

Strawberry Patch 017

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