If you are having problems growing strawberries organically, taking a few precautions can help increase your yield.
What Strawberries Need to Grow
Strawberries are an excellent fruiting plant for the organic garden. Often considered a "dirty" fruit because they're commercially grown using lots of pesticides, you can grow your own healthy strawberries with fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers if you keep a few things in mind:
- Strawberries are sun lovers - They thrive when they get at least six hours of sunlight a day.
- Strawberry plants hate wet feet - One of the fastest ways to kill strawberry plants is to give them a soil and location that doesn't provide adequate drainage. Strawberry plant roots will rot quickly in boggy soil. Once the roots of the plant have started to decay, the plant will starve.
- Strawberries are hungry plants - They like rich soil that has lots of organic matter in it. Two to four inches of compost worked into the soil will help nourish your plants and encourage them to bear large, sweet fruits.
- Strawberries like acidic soil - Most home garden soils aren't naturally acidic enough to accommodate strawberries without adding acidifiers. This means that you'll have to amend the soil to bring the pH (a measurement of acidity and alkalinity) down to 5.5 to 6.5. You can test your soil with an inexpensive pH test kit and add amendments, like peat moss, leaf mold, cottonseed meal and vinegar to adjust the pH before you introduce the plants.
- Strawberries don't like to be crowded - Strawberries do best when they're given an open, airy location with room to grow. Diseases like powdery mildew and strawberry leaf spot will be less of a problem if there's good air circulation in and around your strawberry stock.
If you can supply the necessary light, space, organic enrichment, drainage and acidic conditions, your strawberry plants will be well on their way to a bumper fruit crop.
Some Common Problems Growing Strawberries Organically
To keep strawberries healthy, be careful to control weed growth in your garden. Don't set up conditions where weeds are competing with your plants for nutrients and water. Rich soil encourages any number of freeloaders to put down roots and start robbing strawberries of what they need to thrive, so keep your patch clear.
If strawberry plants aren't getting enough light, they won't be able to process the nutrients in the soil effectively. Although it isn't practical to relocate your plants after they've been planted, it's very hard to grow healthy fruit bearing strawberries without ample light. Take some extra time to pay close attention to which areas in your garden get the best, unobstructed light, and use that spot as your strawberry patch.
If you've done everything right in your quest for the perfect homegrown strawberry, your plants will be able to repel pests and fight off diseases, like powdery mildew, more effectively. Nature can still present problems in the form of pests and diseases, though:
- Snails and Slugs - To control these slimy strawberry gluttons, try placing copper strips around your plants. When snails and slugs encounter copper, they get a shock and go foraging somewhere else. You can find copper strips at your garden supply store. Another option is to cover the area around your beds with diatomaceous earth. Diatoms are the tiny skeletons of microscopic sea organisms. This fine powder cuts the undersides of soft-bodied pests and either kills or discourages them. It's a little like putting broken glass along the top ledge of a brick wall. This solution works best in dry conditions.
- Hungry Birds - Even dedicated bird watchers can get irritated when these greedy interlopers start taking bites out of ripening strawberries. The best way to discourage them is to invest in bird proof netting. It's a relatively inexpensive choice that's available at your local garden supply outlet.
- Verticillium Wilt - This is one of the most common disease problems with strawberries. When they're infected, healthy plants will start to droop and then dry up. There is no cure for this fungus. If you have an infected plant, destroy it immediately and hope the problem doesn't spread. If you lose a crop to it one season, plant in another location the following year. When you make your plant selections, opt for cultivars that are wilt resistant, like 'Blakemore', 'Guardian', 'Surecrop' and 'Sunrise'.
You can avoid many problems growing strawberries organically if you take the time to choose the right location and prepare the soil in your strawberry patch with care.