If you are interested in growing strawberries, specifically the June-bearing varieties, last week’s column got you started in terms of site selection and preparation, as well as planting. Perhaps you have already ordered your dormant crowns for planting in April. If not, I can offer the following variety recommendations from David T. Handley, vegetable and small fruits specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension. (I had the good fortune this past weekend to attend a lecture, “Growing Small Fruits,” presented by Handley. Much of the following information was harvested from his excellent presentation.)
While June-bearing strawberries are harvested over a relatively short period of time in early summer, the group can be divided into early-, mid- and late-season varieties. By selecting two or three varieties, the gardener can extend the season over several weeks. While Nourse Farms in Whately, Mass., one of New England’s largest grower of small fruit plants for home gardens, lists 26 varieties of June-bearing strawberry, Handley, in his lecture, pruned his recommendations for Maine gardens to the following eight, listed from earliest to latest in terms of harvest period. (Comments on flavor and disease resistance are from Nourse’s online catalog, http://noursefarms.com/category/strawberries).
Variety, harvest period, berry size, flavor, resistance
Wendy, early season, large, excellent, red stele
Annapolis, early season, large, good, red stele
Cavendish, early midseason, large, excellent, red stele, verticillium wilt
Allstar, midseason, large, good, red stele
Mesabi, midseason, large, excellent, red stele
Sparkle, late midseason, medium, excellent, red stele
Valley Sunset, late season, large, good, leaf diseases
A more comprehensive list of varieties can be found on a University of Maine Cooperative Extension publication, “Strawberry Varieties for Maine,” also written by Dr. Handley.
Disease resistance in an important factor in selection of strawberry varieties. Red stele, a root-rot fungus, is a common disease organisms in many soils, particularly those with poor drainage, and resistant plants are the best way to combat this problem. Nonresistant varieties could experience a total crop loss in wet years.
Verticillium wilt is another potentially devastating strawberry disease carried over in the soil from previous susceptible crops such as tomato and potato. The disease organism can persist in wet soils for several years.
For my taste, and Marjorie’s, flavor is the primary factor. We grow Sparkle, not the largest of berries but definitely one of the sweetest. The distinction between “excellent” and “good”, when it comes to flavor, is sugar content.
Additional helpful hints include:
• Consider growing at least two varieties, particularly if one is an early-ripening variety that will be more susceptible to late frost injury to the flowers, resulting in reduced yield in some years.
• Get your order in as order as possible to guarantee availability of the varieties you want.
• Before placing your order, make sure that the plants you are buying are from “certified virus-free stock.”
Next week: Everything you need to know about strawberry culture.
Speaking of berries, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener Development Board is conducting an online high-bush blueberry plant sale to raise funds for the Master Gardener Volunteers program. If you are interested in growing high-bush blueberries, don’t miss this unique opportunity to not only purchase quality plants but also receive three years of expert advise to ensure your success with those plants.
I know that many of my readers are aware of the good work conducted by Master Gardener Volunteers in our communities, including helping new gardeners achieve success, managing community gardens that support Maine Harvest for the Hungry, coordinating countywide food drives, serving as curators and caretakers of public gardens, educating the public about eradication of invasive plant species and landscaping with native species and fostering sound, chemical-free gardening practices. This blueberry plant sale is an opportunity to support this good work. Here’s the deal:
“For $35.95, you can purchase a set of three high-bush blueberry plants hardy to Maine’s climate. These young healthy plants will be available for pick-up on Saturday, May 19, at your designated choice of six University of Maine Cooperative Extension locations [see the link below]. Each set of three plants will contain at least two different varieties to ensure good cross-pollination. They are well-rooted 3-by-7-inch plugs with roughly 17 inches in shoot height, ready to go in the ground and take off. The plants should bear a small crop of fruit by their third year, and be in full production by their fourth year. Within 4-6 years each plant should attain a mature height and breadth of up to 6 inches by 6 inches. The deadline to order is April 30.
“With your plant purchase you’ll receive a special code for a $5 discount at the UMaine soil testing lab for your blueberry planting site. Over the next three years, you’ll receive systematic, timely expert advice (by email and Web links) on growing blueberries at every stage. Our specially developed website will provide you with fact sheets and instructional videos on how to choose your planting site, test and amend your soil and plant, prune and harvest your blueberries. As your plants begin to bear fruit, our website will provide you with healthy recipes, nutritional information and instructions on how you can preserve your harvest. We invite you to join us — enjoy fresh blueberries, new knowledge and a contribution to others, through your purchase. Learn, grow, eat, give!”
For more information and to order, visit http://umaine.edu/gardening/go-blueberry.