|Propagating Strawberry Plants
I got an email from a strawberry grower last week detailing the varieties they will have for sale this fall and encouraging early orders. Since I live on the verge of the subtropics, this annual email reminds me that October will come and with it, the time to plant strawberries for spring harvest. Summer can be fatal to strawberry plants, especially those that are very hot, above 95 degrees for weeks, or very dry as so many have experienced this year. If the plants don’t dehydrate on their own, spider mites get started under the dry leaves and suck the life right out. When the weather is wet and hot, leaf diseases can wipe out a strawberry bed in a week. But if, like me, your strawberry plants have survived the summer, it is time to propagate them.
There will be no order from me to the friendly growers this year because the summer has been less tortuous than usual for strawberry plants. I have watered strawberry beds in other summers and still lost them. This year, it seemed that each time the bed began to look tired, a thunderstorm blew through to soak the soil and rehydrate the leaves beautifully. It is said that no amount of irrigation water does as much good as rainfall, and I must agree, at least in the case of my strawberry bed.
So, here’s what I’m doing. First, understand that I have a full raised bed plus 3 flats with berry plants growing in them. I had to remove 6 flats’ worth from another bed that went to perennial flowers and found new homes for only half of them. The bed itself is 3.5 feet wide and 12 feet long, raised above a gravel pad and surrounded by 1x6 cypress boards. The harvest is more than ample for us and we pick berries from March through May in a good year like this one. The plants have multiplied nicely and sent out lots of runners, thin stems that end in a small plant or a cluster of them. Both the mother plants and the runner plants can make strawberries next year if propagated now. The big idea is to have young plants big enough to transplant into a freshly made bed by mid-October. I’ve got 2 months and they’ll be ready. If this timing does not suit your gardening zone, the same process will work whenever you need to divide and multiply strawberry plants.
Like most perennials, strawberries are easier to divide out of the soil. I check out each plant as I dig it up to be sure no runner plants get ripped out of the ground where they have conveniently put down roots. If the runners are loose, I take them with the mother plant, but if they have begun to root, I cut the stem and leave that baby in place for the moment. Some perennials will fall right apart, but strawberries do not and besides, their roots are quite fragile. Separate the plant with your fingers to see the new plant and remember, a division must have leaves, roots, and the crown that joins them together. Use a sharp, single-blade knife to slice straight through and separate each new plant. If the central plant is not healthy, compost it. Soak each of the new strawberry plants for 15 minutes in a dishpan with 2 T Liquid Hormex Concentrate mixed in 1 gallon of water. I’ll pot the newbies up into a good potting mix rich with additions of worm castings and organic fertilizer. Between now and October, I will get the raised bed turned and rejuvenated with organic matter. I’ll handle the runners differently, depending on whether they already have roots or not. The ones that root in the bed will be barely rooted, so I will soak them in the same HLC solution for twice as long before potting. The unrooted runners can be laid into a flat of the same loose soil mix and dipped into Hormex #3 or undiluted HLC.
To care for the new strawberry plants, I will put the pots where I have had the flats since spring – in the shade. And yes, a couple of the plants in flats have sent out runners already so I will pot them up just like the ones in the bigger, older bed. They’ll all get watered with a 1 T/gal HLC mix once a month and again after planting in October. It is a given that strawberry plants cannot make it through hot southern summers and new ones go in the garden each October to be grown over winter like pansies and Brussels sprouts. I’m flying in the face of conventional wisdom here, and happy to be able to soar with strawberries propagated for another season.