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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Strawberries Need Extra Care to Thrive in Arid New Mexico

LAS CRUCES -- Gardeners in search of succulent strawberries should pamper the plants, a New Mexico State University horticulturist said.

"Strawberries are popular with most home gardeners, but they tend to require more care here in New Mexico because of our hot weather and alkaline soils," said George Dickerson with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

Begin by purchasing bareroot plants from a reliable nursery or seed catalog, he said. Choosing virus-indexed strawberries will help avoid bringing new plant diseases into your garden.

The three basic types of strawberries are June bearers, everbearing and day-neutral varieties, Dickerson explained. June bearers get their name for the month when they usually produce berries. Everbearing varieties will produce a crop during both spring and fall. Day-neutral types can produce flowers and berries anytime during the growing season, from spring until fall.

"Everbearing and day-neutral varieties are the most popular because June bearers are subject to late frosts in the spring," Dickerson said.

Before the plants arrive, prepare raised strawberry beds in a location shaded from the afternoon sun, he said. Adding compost and Canadian peat moss to the soil will help counteract alkalinity.

"Our alkaline soils tend to make iron unavailable to plants, causing a yellowing of young strawberry leaves," Dickerson said. "Humic acid in the compost will help make soil nutrients more available." Compost also contains small amounts of a variety of nutrients in organic form, he said.

Soak the roots in water for about half an hour before planting. Dickerson suggests trimming excess roots by approximately one-third. Spread the remaining roots evenly in the planting hole, placing the crown of the plant at soil level. Fill the hole with soil firmly to ensure good contact between the soil and roots, and water immediately.

"Flowers that bloom in the spring of the first year should be removed to help establish a good root system," Dickerson said. Runners produced in the summer will form new daughter plants. These should be placed evenly between mother plants to fill in bare spots in the bed.

For established strawberry beds, add an iron-chelated fertilizer to counteract chlorosis, or yellowing. "The iron chelate can be applied directly to the soil in the spring, or applied to foliage in the early spring before flowering or after flowering in the summer," Dickerson said. "However, don't use iron chelate when strawberry plants are flowering because the fertilizer may burn the flowers."

Strawberries are bee-pollinated, so avoid using large amounts of insecticide when plants are flowering, Dickerson said. "Berries that haven't been well-pollinated will appear scrunched," he added.