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I received a question from someone who is growing strawberries for the first time. He has heard that strawberries live for three years and wanted to know if it was because of weeds, nutrients, or what. Here’s my reply:
Strawberry plants can live many years. All of the things you mention can be discouraging. In my experience weeds tend to take over before other factors become important. With good mulching and planning weeds can become less of a factor.
The three year thing is about the need to renovate the plants after a period of time. Organic matter breaks down and is depleted over a couple of years.
The soil structure is no longer able to hold moisture. The mass of roots of older plants quickly takes of water and the soil can’t hold enough water to provide the moist soil that strawberries need. Nutrients get depleted and are hard or impossible to incorporate. Most nutrient application is done as top dressing which is a very inefficient way of getting nutrients to the roots.
With alpines, I have found an additional reason to renovate after a period of time. Unpicked fruit results in volunteers. Self pollinated fruit (pollen from the same plant) and cross pollination of different varieties can result in what appears to be new types of plants coming up and producing fruit.
This is particularly apparent in plantings of white/yellow fruiting varieties. White/yellow fruit is recessive. A lot of crosses will result in the new generation producing red fruit. Non runnering types (clumping alpines for example) can produce volunteers that produce runners. As you can see this can get messy over time without some supervision and prethought.
Within the last couple of days there has been a spike in emails and phone calls about seeds. The most asked question to date is whether our seeds are GMO. The answer, we signed the safe seed pledge which means that we do NOT sell GMO seeds. All of our seeds are open pollinated and are not hybrids.
We do sell some heirloom plants that are hybrids but none are GMO. They are propagated vegetatively which means by rooting their runners, so they are not open pollinated.
A couple of notes about seed availability and price. So far we are holding our prices or offering better prices and more discounts than in the past. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to do this. Some of the seed is now grown here in Delaware but a still significant amount is imported. The U.S. dollar is weaker than it was a year ago but we are pretty well stocked up right now. We likely will have some shortages as the season goes on, especially for seed we produce.
One other factor affecting availability is a significant increase in demand for seed from outside the U.S. Several species and many of the selections we offer are not available at all or to any great extent off shore. This is especially true for Fragaria virginiana and many of our F. vesca selections.
We are still making the transition from plant production to seed production. If demand for seed continues to increase we will likely significantly reduce our plant production and sales. Many of our customers are either garden centers or growers who grow for garden centers. With shipping costs being what they are it’s probably for the best if we ease back on plant production. It will be much more economical for gardeners to buy plants locally than to have us ship them across the country. It comes down to shear economics.
One last point. Most strawberry seed takes about 14 weeks from sowing to first fruit if grown in a range of 65 to 75 degrees F. This knowledge will help you to plan your sowing and also your seed purchases. Seed can be stored in a freezer prior to sowing and actually should be frozen for at least a month before sowing. All strawberry seed that we ship is already preconditioned and ready to sow. If you get the seed early or if you are a distant international customer who has to wait up to a couple of weeks to receive your order, freeze the seed until you are ready to sow to help optimize germination.