Selecting strawberry varieties for your garden

How to be a smart gardener when choosing strawberry varieties to grow.

According to Michigan State University Extension, strawberries are the most popular small fruit for backyard growers and are well adapted to most areas in Michigan and the United States. A 100-foot row of plants can produce more than 100 quarts of fruit if managed well. One cup of fresh strawberries makes an excellent snack, containing only 49 calories. They are also a good source of folate and potassium, and a very good source of Vitamin C, manganese and dietary fiber.

While raspberries, grapes and blueberries require multiple years before producing much fruit, some strawberry varieties will produce a good crop by mid-summer of the planting year. If managed well, a planting can last five to seven years before needing replacement. Pests including diseases, insects and weeds are the usual reasons for establishing strawberries in a new location.

Selecting the right variety to grow is the first step in your planning process. Strawberries are classified as June bearing or everbearers. June bearing strawberries form flower buds in the fall as the day length decreases. In Michigan they flower in May. The harvest begins in early to mid-June and continues for three to four weeks. June bearing strawberries produce their first crop the second year after planting.

June bearing strawberries are also classified into three groups: early, mid-season and late varieties. These groups are based on when the variety is harvested. The difference between early and mid-season varieties is just a few days. The harvest interval between early and late season is about seven to nine days.

Everbearing strawberries begin bearing at the same time as June bearers. The difference is everbearers will continue to produce berries throughout summer and into fall. They can produce some berries into October if growing conditions are favorable. Most of the everbearers set flowers as a result of long day length, which is what we experience during the summer months.

Within the everbearing group are day-neutral varieties. Day-neutral plants are not dependent on the length of daylight to set flower buds. Day-neutral varieties such as Tristar and Tribute are very productive and superior in quality when compared to standard everbearers such as Ozark Beauty.

When selecting which varieties to grow, there are some factors to consider other than harvest season or June bearing versus everbearers. My number one priority is flavor. This is usually described as dessert quality in books and catalogs. As I read the variety descriptions, I am only interested in a rating of excellent or very good. When tasting a homegrown berry, I want it to be a glorious experience and not one more disappointment with a beautiful looking flavor impostor.

Another consideration is processing quality. If freezing, a variety that will not turn to mush when thawed is preferred. Ratings can be very good, good, fair and unknown. To some people, especially those who sell berries, size is important. To me, it is less important than the quality of the berry, but catalogs do list berry size as very large, large, large to medium and medium. To my knowledge, there is no standard for what constitutes a very large versus medium berry, so the rating is a comparative one.

Varieties are also compared by their yield potential. They can be high, moderate to high, medium or low. One can compensate by planting more or less of a particular variety, depending on your needs.

Finally, plants are rated by their susceptibility or resistance to root and leaf diseases. This one is more important to me because it may determine how well your plants will grow in a particular location or how much spraying will be required to keep the plants healthy.

In choosing the right variety for your location and use, consider all the factors before choosing what to grow. For additional information on growing strawberries, check out my online class. For an overview of strawberry varieties, see “Overview of Strawberry Varieties” by the University of Vermont Extension.

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu. You can also visit MSU Extension at the West Michigan Home and Garden Show on Feb. 28-March 3.