Question: My neighbor shares her strawberries with our family. Her plants produce fruit all summer. She volunteered to share some of her runner plants so I can have my own plants. Could you give me some pointers in starting my own strawberry patch?
Answer: I normally would not recommend getting runner plants from a neighbor because you may not get a productive variety. However, in your case, you are familiar with the fruit and apparently happy with it.
Another reason for avoiding getting plants from another person’s patch is that strawberry plants gradually pick up a virus after a few years. Nursery growers clean the virus from plants so they are clean when you buy them.
Choose a location with at least a half-day of sun. Strawberries do not grow as well in clay soil as they do in well-drained sandy soil. That is why I recommend either incorporating at least 3 inches of bark dust or compost into the existing soil or better yet, planting in raised grow boxes with artificial soil mix. A 4 foot by 8 foot grow box with 10- to 12-inch sides is just right for 20 plants.
Strawberry varieties fit into three groups. The first group is standard or long-day varieties. They bear a single crop of fruit over a period of three to four weeks during the long days of June and July. This is the type planted by most home gardeners in our area.
The second group produces a second crop of fruit in September and are referred to as “ever bearers.” This is a bit of a misnomer since there is a long gap between crops.
The third group is day-neutral varieties. They bear fruit whether days are long, short or in between. They are also sometimes referred to as ever bearers, which makes more sense because they bear continuously from June through September.
This is the type of strawberry variety I recommend for most home gardeners. Although they do not bear as heavily in June, it is nice to be able to pick a few berries for cereal or ice cream for four months.
Your neighbor apparently has the day-neutral type. I am sure that there is an abundance of runner plants in her patch this time of year. She will want to save some of those new plants for her own patch to replace some of her older plants. Strawberry plants produce the most fruit in the first three years. After that, they should be replaced.
As soon as the runner plants have formed a few roots of their own, they can be cut from their mother plants and moved to a new location. I would recommend that you space plants at least a foot apart to allow for runner plants the second year.
You could also purchase plants of day-neutral varieties online now. The original day-neutral strawberry varieties were bred at the University of California Davis more than 50 years ago. Commercial varieties were crossed with wild strawberries from the Utah mountains that had the day-neutral characteristic. They formed the basis for the billion dollar strawberry industry in California. The University of California continues to develop new varieties, including short-day varieties for winter production in southern California. Their varieties are the best of the day-neutral type. You will find descriptions and ordering information online under “day-neutral strawberries.”