Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; firstname.lastname@example.org
Planting season is here for plasticulture strawberry systems. In our area, most strawberries are planted using plugs produced by rooting tips. While plugs are more forgiving than bare root plants, actions prior to planting and at planting still can affect future performance. The goal is to have quick, uniform rooting across all plants on the bed so that proper sized crowns are produced before going into winter.
The first key is to have a firm, high, uniform raised bed with black plastic mulch tight against the soil. This allows heat to transfer to the soil, warming the root zone, and promoting fall growth. Loose plastic will not do this.
Liming should be done ahead of time if necessary to raise pH and provide Ca and Mg if necessary. Base fertilizer should be applied to the bed before formation to provide necessary P and K and adequate but not excessive N for fall growth (60-75 lbs N is recommended at bedding).
Whether you are planting by hand using a dibber to make holes or are using a water wheel transplanter, uniform planting depth is critical. Workers placing plugs should be trained to place plants so that crowns are not buried or are not above soil level. If buried, crowns will be susceptible to rots and plants may die or be stunted. Buried buds may not be able to leaf out. If planted too shallow, plugs will be susceptible to drying out before being able to root. In addition, during planting, workers should not plant weak, diseased, or damaged plants
Water is also critical during establishment. While we are having a spell of rainy weather, you cannot always count on rain during the establishment period. Drip irrigation should be run to wet the bed. However, this is usually not enough. Plants should receive water at transplanting in the hole and should also be watered overhead during the establishment period for best results.
Planting date is critical for plasticulture systems. While row cover management can be used to control growth, planting at the proper date will make row cover management in the fall much simpler. The ideal planting window is the first half of September, prior to September 20, for most areas in our region. Strawberries planted in this window should produce adequate numbers of branch crowns in the fall period and can then be covered in late November or early December for winter protection.
Later plantings (after September 20) will require earlier row covering to trap some heat and put on adequate fall growth.
In high tunnels, the planting window in the fall will be wider because of the extra heat provided and later plantings can be successful. However, some earliness will be lost.