Guide to Strawberries

The summer months bring the delicious juiciness and sweet fragrance and flavor of in-season strawberries.

SEASON: Berries are available from farms from spring until December. However, peak season for gardeners is May through August.

CHOOSING: Look for bright red, firm berries that have bright green caps and are free of mushy spots. If the package has a berry with mold, avoid the box entirely, as the mold will spread. Strawberries do not ripen after they are picked. Look for locally grown berries if possible.

STORING: Leave the caps attached until you’re ready to eat the berries. The injury of removing them will cause the quality of the berries to decline quickly. Refrigerate unwashed berries as soon as you bring them home. Place the entire container in a produce bag to prevent drying.

GROWING: Strawberries grow on a hardy perennial plant that hugs the ground and spreads by runners that root wherever they touch the soil. A single plant this year can easily become four plants next season.

In colder regions, plant in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. In warmer zones where the soil doesn’t freeze, fall-planted strawberries can get a head start on the spring season by growing roots all winter long.

Choose a location that receives at least eight hours of sun each day. The soil should be loose and well drained. Adding a generous amount of compost will make the planting bed fluffy and deep—just what makes strawberry plants thrive. Set plants so that the crown, or the fragile base of the plant just above its roots, is just above the soil level; take care not to bury it. Space plants about 18 inches apart, allowing plenty of room for the offspring to spread out.

If you do not have enough room for a big bed of straw- berries, try growing them in a large pot or strawberry jar, a big pot with pockets for plants all around the sides as well as the top. These are easy to move into a garage or close to the house during hard freezes.

Ever-bearing varieties produce a lot of berries in spring, but they also give a few all through the season. June-bearing varieties produce more berries at the same time, which is ideal for making preserves.