Cornell expert answers queries on strawberries

Gazette Gardener Natalie Walsh speaks with Cornell University fruit crop expert about this year's st

This has been a wonderful season for strawberries. I have made strawberry shortcake, strawberry compote for serving over vanilla ice cream or on pancakes weekend mornings and I still have a shelf full of frozen berries in gallon plastic bags in the freezer.

Readers have been e-mailing me about the great strawberry harvest this year and asking how to care for berry patch once the harvest is over.

I asked fruit crop expert, Dr. Marvin Pritts, of Cornell University, for his recommendations. Here is what he said.

Q: What should we do after we’ve picked the last of the berries?

A: Mow off the leaves. Set the mower so you don’t damage the crowns. Apply fertilizer (about 5 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row and then narrow the rows (to no more than 12 inches wide) with a rototiller. Narrow rows produce more and higher quality berries.

Within a couple of weeks, the plants will come roaring back with new, clean leaves. This practice keeps the bed healthy as it interrupts the buildup of certain disease and pest problems.

Keep up with water and weed control in August and September. A second application of fertilizer is usually made in early September, but at half of the above rate. Adequate moisture and fertility increase fruit bud formation and improve fruit yield next year.

Q: How should runners be handled?

A: In new plantings, move them into the row. After the first year, just till them under when they grow into the alleyway.

Q: How long does a strawberry bed remain productive?

A: Up to 7 years, although typically beds are replaced after about the third fruiting year.

Q: Any particular varieties better choices than others for jellies or eating raw?

A: All are OK for jelly. My favorites for fresh flavor are Earliglow, Jewel and Northeaster.

Q: Do strawberries need special treatment in the fall?

A: Usually one more cultivation/row narrowing in late September. They also need to be mulched with straw in early December to prevent winter injury.

Q: What are the potential problems you encounter when growing? And, how can you avoid them?

A: We have a great Web site for helping people diagnose what might be wrong with their plants. Go to This Web site takes the gardener to a page with fruit photos. Click on the photo of the fruit you need information about and a new page with a list of symptoms of a problem will appear.

Click on the appropriate symptom and you are helped through the diagnosis with photos that show problems and pests. It is very easy to use.

Happy gardening.

Natalie Walsh is a horticulturist in addition to being the Gazette’s special sections editor. Reach her at [email protected]

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