The Garden Life: Strawberries are sweet way to start growing fruit

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Strawberries, Fragaria ananassa, adapt better than any other small fruit crop to Washington climates. If you want to start growing garden fruits, start with strawberries. The strawberry is considered an herbaceous perennial. It sends up new shoots, leaves, and runners each year from a crown and root structure that generally lives for four to five years.

My nearest neighbor, John, has an ingenious method of training his strawberries to self-propagate from year to year. Since the fruit production of individual strawberry plants declines after two or three years, they need to be replaced by new plants on a regular basis. John encourages this by guiding the last strawberry shoots of this season in the direction of an adjacent raised bed that is prepared ahead of time for planting.

New plants begin to grow as soon as the runners touch the soil and take root in the new planting bed. When a crop of fresh strawberries arrives next year, the fruit will be growing on newly formed plants in fresh soil, already mulched and fertilized. As the new bed fills in, John eliminates the old plants from the original bed. When the newer plants have matured and run their course of fruit production, he will once again guide the runners from this patch back into the original bed.

Apply enough fertilizer to established beds to stimulate late summer plant growth and flower bud initiation for the following season’s crop. Continue to water strawberry plants after harvest in preparation for next year’s crop. Protect plants from slugs, which feed on leaves and fruit, especially during cool, moist weather. Control slugs by picking and destroying adults. Do not apply slug bait to foliage or fruit

Adult strawberry sap beetles, Stelidota geminata, fly into strawberry plantings from wooded areas at about the time berries begin to ripen. They are particularly attracted to over-ripe berries. Strawberry sap beetles are best controlled by picking the fruit in a timely manner and by removing over-ripe and damaged berries. Sap beetle populations usually do not build up until the picking cycle is underway, so the use of insecticides is discouraged.

The WSU Extension program recommends several day-neutral and everbearing strawberry varieties:

• Quinalt: Everbearing, small berries, soft fruit, good flavor. Large June and small fall crop.

• Tillicum: Everbearing, very small berries, soft fruit, vigorous. Harvest June through fall.

• Tristar: Good flavor, firmness and color, average fruit size. Harvest June through October.

• Tribute: Firm fruit, flavor superior to Quinalt. Later than Tristar but long harvest season.

'To-do’ list for each type

Having an individual style of garden dictates the specific type of maintenance required to keep that garden in top form. A gardener with a penchant for roses will need to pay special attention to rose care and pruning. The rock gardener may never have to prune a rose, but must assure that his or her soil contains sandy grit that drains well in every season of the year.

Each garden will have a unique “To Do” list, but there are seasonal tasks relevant to every garden. I encourage using a variety of sources for general maintenance suggestions as well as information specific to your garden. Seasonal lists are available in garden books, magazines and online.

All gardens need summer water. Even gardens that are planted as “xeriscape” specifically to limit water use with a mix of drought tolerant plant material will need to meet the minimal water requirements of each plant. Adding organic matter to the soil when planting is beneficial no matter what style of garden you have. Pruning or deadheading spent flower blossoms on rose bushes and seasonal perennials is the best way to assure another flush of flower production.

Here are a few examples of jobs to do in August that one might find at the back of any national magazine publication. Continue to watch for black spot on roses and treat accordingly. Water early in the day to give plant foliage enough time to dry before nightfall. Start late-season cole crops, greens and peas. Cole crops include broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. Short season root crops such as radishes and scallions can also be started now.

Here is a clipping from a Cornell University online article about Black Spot on roses: “While there are many different types of leaf spot — localized lesions on host leaves consisting of dead and collapsed cells – this article will concentrate on ‘Black Spot’ of roses. The fungus Diplocarpon rosae causes black spot. Feathery, circular black spots occur on the upper surface of leaves. A yellow circle or halo often surrounds these spots. The infected leaves will turn yellow and fall off prematurely. Purple-red lesions may also develop on the first-year canes.”