By Julie Bawden-Davis
When I bit into my first homegrown strawberry years ago and discovered for the first time what a strawberry picked fresh actually tastes like, my first reaction was that I wanted more—a lot more. I was soon mystified to find, though, that the plants once burgeoning with tasty, juicy berries simply stopped fruiting early in the season.
After all of my coaxing and cajoling (including applying the best fertilizer money could buy) failed to result in more fruit, I have to admit I felt a bit embarrassed. There I was, a gardener in sunny Southern California, living in the midst of strawberry fields forever, and I couldn’t get my little strawberry patch to bear fruit.
Not one to give up, I did some research. After contacting strawberry experts at the University of California, Davis Department of Plant Sciences and the California Strawberry Commission, I discovered that I would have been in strawberry heaven if only I’d cultivated an everbearing variety like Quinault, which is grown by Bonnie Plants and produces tasty berries throughout the season. Instead, I’d grown Sequoia, a June-bearing strawberry that gives a big crop of yummy berries and then stops until the following year — leaving me to crave fresh strawberries all summer long!
One positive result came from my yearning for more homegrown berries: I stayed on the research path. I found that although 80 percent of the strawberries produced in the U.S. commercially are grown in California, there was very little out there for home gardeners about how to grow berries in their Southern California backyards. As a result, I decided to write The Strawberry Story: How to Grow Great Berries Year-Round in Southern California (Garden Guides Press). The book has sold more than 5,000 copies, and I released the second edition last spring.
While writing that book and a subsequent article for Organic Gardening magazine on growing strawberries in various areas of the U.S., I discovered that growing strawberries is surprisingly regional. There really is no one-size-fits-all method, especially when it comes to the varieties. Whereas, a certain strawberry like Allstar (another Bonnie Plants selection) will perform like a rock star in one area of the country, that same variety may not produce quite as well in another region.
Strawberry planting and growing methods vary widely as well. For instance, while strawberries usually require full sun, they falter in the blazing hot summer afternoon sun in areas like Southern California and the southwest. And in some areas of the country, everbearing strawberries are grown as annuals, while June-bearers are grown as perennials, and vice versa.
But don’t let the regional differences stop you from finding strawberry success. Check with your state’s extension service for recommended varieties and growing techniques, or use my Strawberry Story series as a reference. In addition to the Southern California edition, I recently released The Strawberry Story: How to Grow Great Berries in the Northeast. Next stops will be the South and Midwest. With a little guidance, you too can enjoy homegrown strawberries all summer long.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a Southern California garden writer and University of California-certified master gardener, who has authored more than 1,500 articles for a wide variety of publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly gardening column, Better Homes and Gardens, Organic Gardening, Wildflower Magazine, HGTV.com, Family Circle, Parents and the Los Angeles Times. She is founder of HealthyHouseplants.com and author of six books, including The Strawberry Story: How to Grow Great Berries Year-Round in Southern California; The Strawberry Story: How to Grow Great Berries in the Northeast, Fairy Gardening, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way. Contact Julie at GardenGuidesPress.com.