Believe it or not it is time for you to think about ordering your strawberry plants for fall planting. You need to do it soon before the suppliers sell out for the year.
If you get them planted early enough this fall, you have a shot of getting some production out of their first year this coming March and April.
If you are interested in an edible landscape in your yard, I personally think that strawberries are your first go-to option. They take up limited space. They are relatively easy to take care of. And they produce fairly quickly compared to other fruits. Without question, strawberries are the best fruit for beginners.
When I first started growing strawberries, I focused on Everbearing varieties because I naively thought that it would be great to be able to harvest strawberries throughout the year. Little did I know then that Everbearing varieties will only produce in the Spring in Texas -- similar to June bearers -- because our summers are so darn brutal!
I have come around full circle now, and I intend to plant more June bearers this fall. Typically, June bearers are known to have better taste and bigger berries than Everbearers, but some of the Everbearers are pretty darn good, too. June bearers fruit just once a year for a period of approximately two to four weeks. (If you plant early, mid-season, and late varieties, your harvest can extend to eight weeks.) In Texas, instead of calling them Junebearers, they should call them March bearers or April bearers because that is when our berries ripen given the earlier last freeze in Texas.
We just barely survived the worst drought and the hottest summer of recorded Texas history. Many of my strawberry plants that were in full sun took it on the chin and perished --- or at least they look like they perished (there is a chance that some of them may come back as temperatures cool down). I am going to use this small scale devastation as an opportunity to revive my strawberry beds.
This time around, I am going to do things a little bit differently.
One thing that will not change, however, is that I am going to continue to plant more Seascape everbearers. Even though I do intend to primarily plant June bearers this Fall, I absolutely love Seascape for Dallas and will stick with them. The Seascape berries are enormous and have great taste. Also, the plants have been the hardiest of all of the strawberry varieties that we have planted.
(We have planted the following varieties over the last few years: Seascape, Ozark Beauty, Quinault, Tristar, Ogallala, Lateglow, Jewel, Allstar, and Earliglow.
Here is a photograph of a bed of Seascape from this Spring:
As to the June bearers, a trip to the grocery store this summer has affected my decision on what to plant this Fall. Earlier in the summer, we picked up some in-season California strawberries from the grocery store and came across some of the most enormous strawberries that I had ever seen. I am not exagerating when I tell you that some of these strawberries were 3 inches big. Huge! They also had very good taste. I really want to find and grow that variety of strawberry. But, I haven't done enough sleuthing yet to determine what variety they were. Nevertheless, I suspect that they might have been Benicia, which is restricted to California growers for the next two year.
Instead, I went looking for other varieties with really big berries and good taste and for varieties that are very heat tolerant with great taste.
I came up with Cabot and Cardinal. Here are the descriptions of these two varieties:
Cardinal: "Cardinal strawberry plants produce very large fruits. Additionally, Cardinal strawberries are very sweet, making them a favorite item on any table. Cardinal strawberry plants are June-bearing, and they produce their harvest over the span of 2 to 3 weeks during Midseason (see the Strawberry Varieties page for more information). The best time to pick Cardinal strawberries is after the very tip of the fruit has turned red. At this point, the strawberry will be red throughout with full flavor. At maturity, Cardinal strawberries are red and firm with a glossy appearance. They are excellent for processing, very good for freezing, good for fresh eating, and fair as a shipping berry in a commercial operation. Cardinal strawberry plants produce a high yield. This characteristic along with its taste and firmness make Cardinal strawberries one of the ideal choices for pick-your-own or U-pick farms . . . . Cardinal strawberry plants were developed specifically for the south and will usually perform quite nicely in USDA hardiness zones 5, 6, 7, and 8. Optimal conditions for growth are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. They will also survive and produce in Zone 4, though not as optimally." http://strawberryplants.org/2010/05/cardinal-strawberry-plants/
Cabot: "The ideal strawberry for northern gardeners who want huge strawberries with great flavor! Bred by the Kentville Research Station out of Nova Scotia, Canada. Cabot is known for its huge, delicious berries that are firm and red throughout. The winter-hardy, disease resistant plants are best adapted to northern locations where large fruit size is desired. Ripens late season." http://www.jungseed.com/dp.asp?pID=30053&c=237&p=Cabot+Junebearing+Strawberry
"Known for its huge berries, excellent flavor, winter hardiness and disease resistance. Best suited for northern locations and home gardens. Susceptible to Botrytis and crown rot." http://strawberryplants.org/2010/05/strawberry-varieties/
A few other varieties also piqued my interest, but I could not source them or the sellers were sold out for the year: Selva (large strawberry); Sonata (heat tolerant); Evie 2 (heat tolerant); and Chandler (great taste and good for California and the South).
I appreciate that Cabot is a northern variety, but I am willing to risk planting a northern variety because of its large berries. I am going to plant the Cabots where they get afternoon shade, so I am hoping they will acclimate just fine.
Speaking of afternoon shade . . . almost everyone who writes about strawberries recommends that you plant them in full sun. I am here to tell you that I don't think this advice works well for Texas given our hot, brutal summers. In fact, my strawberry beds that get afternoon shade do the best for me. In contrast, the beds in full sun tend to burn out.
Another change that I will make when I plant these new strawberry plants is that I will avoid closely planting them together. In the past, I have had unbroken masses of plants. I think that planting in this fashion may have been a mistake. By massing the plants, I made it easier for slugs and pill bugs to hide out and ravage the strawberries. It also made it more difficult for me to find all of the berries and harvest them.
Consequently, with this planting, I am going to separate out each plant from the others by planting them at 2 foot intervals. I am hoping that this will make it easier to keep the beds tidier, free of insects, and easily harvested.
So, get out there and order your plants and get them in the ground.
And when you order them, I recommend that you plant at least 25 plants to ensure a good harvest. Typically, bunches of 25 crowns can be purchased for a very reasonable amount of money -- any where from $8.00 to $15.00. While the crowns don't look like much when they arrive, they typically do very well once planted in the ground and given some moisture.