My new Rainer strawberry plants arrived in the mail last week and I had to decide where to plant them. I have grown edible strawberries successfully at two homes in this arid, high desert climate of southwest Idaho. I designate “edible” because I have also grown a decorative strawberry ground cover that was not edible, unless you wanted to pick 30 berries to make a mouthful. (click on any photo to enlarge)
Both of those times that my edible strawberries did well, the location was on an eastern exposure next to the house, that got morning and early afternoon sun, then shade after 3 -4 PM. The plants were lush and full of strawberries in these locations. At the second home, some landscape readjustment resulted in my relocating my strawberry patch. These plants died by the end of summer. I had enough strawberry plants still growing like weeds in the previous spot that I tried to transplant again, the next year, in a different place. This was also a fail.
I had followed all the rules about planting strawberries. I had:
- chosen a site with well draining soil
- with full sun
- made a shallow circle of a hole (sometimes done with a frisbee, sometimes just with a sweep of my hand)
- spread the roots out in a circle around the crown of the plant, where the leaves grow from
- covered the roots, but not the crown
- watered them the right amount
- side dressed them with compost
- picked off the blossoms the first summer (these were all June bearing strawberries)
Except for that second bullet point, I had done everything the same as in the places where the strawberries had grown well. I also knew there was nothing wrong with those new locations because for years before and after the strawberries, I rotated a variety of garden crops through those raised beds. It seemed to me that exposure to the intense Idaho summer sun during the months of July, August, and September was what was killing my strawberry plants. Especially when they still kept popping up like weeds in their first, more shaded home. These new, failed locations were in an open area of my large backyard that got nearly constant sunshine.
I don’t have a good option for an eastern exposure next to the house anymore. Besides which, I’m trying to move plantings away from the house to avoid water leakage issues. So, I am going to try working with one of my trellises to create an eastern exposure, of sorts. I have planted my new strawberry starts at the base of one of my trellises. Because it will take a while for plants along the other side of the trellis to get tall enough to block the sun, the strawberry plants will get plenty of spring time sun. Then, in the heat of summer, they will get some midday sun, but for the later afternoon get shade from whatever heat loving vine is traveling up the trellis. The orientation of the trellis compared to the path of the sun in the sky is important for this to work right. The trellis needs to have one end to the basic path of the sun, so that up until a certain point the plants get sun, but at another they get shade. If the trellis is turned the other way, the low growing plants will either be all in the sun or all in the shade. You can build a simple arched trellis wider, (to see something like this click here), or skinnier (click here to see how I did it)..
The long term plan is to help the strawberry runners hop back and forth from row to row under the trellis on alternating years, keeping the strawberry patch refreshed without having to replant from scratch every three to four years. If they are happy, they will put out runners!
If they don’t seem to be getting enough afternoon shade from their protective vine, I will consider some shade cloth. The trellis should be able to double as a frame for such cloth. Plus, the trellis has the potential to make it easier to rig something to keep the birds off of the berries, too. I’ll have to work on some sort of cover that can be flipped open a section at a time, so as not to be too heavy or awkward. I am hopeful once again for strawberries.