Few backyard fruits are as popular — and evoke as many questions — as strawberries. It is hard to beat the wonderful aroma and delicious juiciness of homegrown ones.
Sometimes I think people don't know what really good berries taste like because they have grown used to the ones they buy at the supermarket — red on the outside, but white, hard and tasteless on the inside. Berries like that have been bred to ship well and appeal to our eyes, but they fall short on flavor.
So why not grow your own?
Like most plants, they like fertile, well-drained soil and sunshine. They are shallow-rooted, will do well in containers or raised beds, and like soil with lots of compost in it. Wherever you plant them, they will need a generous amount of water.
Plants are in nurseries now, so this is a good time to decide which type and variety suits you. June bearers are the most common type. They produce a heavy crop in June and early July, which makes them ideal for freezing and jam. Many people (including yours truly) think they have the best flavor.
Despite their misleading name, "everbearers" produce one crop in late spring and another in the fall, with little fruit in between. In the 1960s, "day-neutral" strawberries were developed at the University of California. They give us a large crop in spring and then flower continuously until frost, as long as temperatures stay below 90 degrees. If you want berries on your cereal and ice cream all summer, day-neutrals are the berries for you.
There are other considerations, of course, and your choice of variety depends on what's important to you. The fruit of June bearers tend to be larger than either everbearers or day-neutrals. However, they also produce more runners, which means you must be diligent about keeping them under control so you don't end up with a mat of plants and no place to step at picking time.
Strawberry plants don't live forever, so you'll want to train some of the new runners to root in the rows to replace older plants. If you have more runners than you need, just clip them off and discard.
They like mulch, such as straw, but do not use plastic between the rows, as the roots will get too hot. The use of plastic that you see in commercial fields is a special method, and not easily adapted by home gardeners.
Some varieties of June bearers to consider are Hood (my favorite), Totem, Firecracker, Rainier and Benton.
I suggest you skip the everbearing and go for the day neutrals, as they perform better in the Rogue Valley. Good choices include Tristar, Tribute, Selva and Seascape.
If you've got to have everbearing, Quinalt and Fort Laramie would be your best bet. Be aware that both day-neutrals and everbearers may be sold as "everbearing" in some nurseries, so it helps to know variety names.
In Oregon, strawberries (and most other berries) tend to be developed and studied in the Willamette Valley, as that climate is most favorable for commercial growing. The ones I've suggested do well here, even if our climate isn't ideal for them.
Coming up: Master Gardener Ron Bombick will teach the principles of pruning roses from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 2, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost is $10. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.