Strawberries have been enjoyed for thousands of years as tasty dessert treats. Few — if any — fruits are as popular and used in so many ways as these berries.
There are many stories as to where the name "strawberry" originates. One is that the name was derived, because in many areas it is common to cover the beds with straw to protect the plants during the winter.
Another is that children strung the berries by their stems on grass straws and then sold them to passers-by. A more logical theory is that the name is derived from the 18th century Anglo-Saxon word "Streabergen," a compound word combing the verb strew, which means "to spread" — as the strawberry plant's runners do — with the word for fruit.
Strawberries are the most widely distributed fruit crop and occur worldwide, from the tropics to the arctic. There are musky species that grow in forests and tall grasses, and there is even a native Utah strawberry that is the source of the day-neutral gene used in many new cultivars. Species from Canada, the United States, Chile, Hawaii, Europe and Siberia have been crossed extensively to create the commercial berries found today.
There are three types of strawberry plants based on their bearing habits.
The first are the single crop — or June-bearing types — that produce berries over a short time in the early summer. Plant these when you want a concentrated crop to preserve. They develop flowers in the spring from buds initiated the previous fall under short-day conditions (less than 10 hours of light per day).
Some of the recommended varieties for Utah include Hood, a medium-large berry with excellent flavor, although yields are lower than other varieties. Honeoye has large, conical fruit, good yields and excellent flavor. Guardian offers large fruit with good yields and excellent flavor.
Robinson has large, blunt-ended berries. It produces well and has an acceptable flavor. Surecrop berries are medium to large with a slightly tart flavor. Sequoia boasts large berries with outstanding flavor. Tioga grows medium-to-large berries with good flavor.
The term "everbearing variety" is deceptive. These types produce a couple of crops each year, but their total production is often less than the single-crop types. Everbearers initiate flower buds under long-day conditions (more than 12 hours of sunlight). Everbearers produce fewer runners and tend to form multiple crowns.
Fort Laramie has large, bright-red fruit with good fragrance. Ogallala has large, plump fruit that are excellent for preserves. Ozark Beauty has large, firm, long-necked berries with excellent flavor.
Day-neutral types start bearing the year they are planted. These can be good choices in the right growing areas. Day-neutral strawberries have the unique ability to flower and fruit under all day-lengths. They produce fruit throughout the growing season, but temperatures above 70 degrees inhibit flower bud formation.
Day neutral types include Selva, which has large bright-red fruit, excellent flavor and heavy yields. Tribute produces smaller cone- to wedge-shaped berries with a good flavor. Tristar has medium-size, cone-shaped fruit.
All strawberries like loamy or sandy soils; heavy, poorly drained clay soil reduces plant growth and vigor and increases diseases. Adding 2 to 3 inches of organic matter will improve the soil and its nutrient availability.
Strawberry plants are hardy, but the blossoms can be killed by late-spring frosts. Plants may have to be covered with a straw mulch or a blanket at night to protect them from frost. In frost-prone areas, day neutral berries might bear better.
Do not allow the strawberry roots to dry out while planting. Prune off dead, diseased or broken leaves and roots, and spread out the roots before covering them. Place the crown (where leaves are attached) level with the soil surface. If plants are too shallow, the roots will dry out. If they are too deep, the plants will rot.
One final recommendation is that you buy only certified virus-free plants that have been inspected for pests and — if possible — look for disease-resistant varieties.
Larry A. Sagers is the horticulture specialist, Utah State University Extension at Thanksgiving Point.