Our fruit cage has borders all around and six beds in the middle; each bed has a double row of raspberries or hybrids down the centre and rows for strawberries along the outer edge. We initially planted four of the six beds with strawberry plants and I have since been taking runners from our favourite variety – Gariguette – to fill in the remaining beds. When clearing two beds of their rampaging hybrid berries I found the strawberry crowns to be rather woody and in need of replacement so have bought new stock to replenish these beds.
Strawberry plants are only good for about three years, after which they tend to decline. They are susceptible to a range of viruses that cause poor growth, reduced yield, and so on. It is good practice to rotate the planting site around the plot and not just replant in the same location. However, it is a bit difficult when one has a permanent fruit cage. In that case, the soil in the beds could be dug out and swapped with soil from elsewhere in the garden. I may well have to do this at some point, but as the previous plants had no signs of virus or disease, I did not go to the considerable trouble of shifting the soil this time around. We could, of course, run rows of growbags along the beds and plant into these should soil borne problems occur in the future.
The two beds in question are covered with a layer of weed fabric. The first job was to peel this off and spread a good layer of manure across the soil. I was pleased to see that the soil was still in good condition under the fabric even after a couple of years without attention. The manure was forked in to the top six inches or so of soil. A sprinkling of fish, blood, and bone was then raked into the surface and the membrane fixed back into place. The strawberry crowns came bare root as is the norm at this time of year. They were well packaged, and wrapped in wet newspaper to prevent the roots from drying out, which is particularly important. The crowns were reasonable; perhaps not the best I have seen, but quite good, and I expect them to establish successfully. Planting through the small holes in the fabric is a bit tricky, but it does a good job of keeping the bed weed free and keeping the berries off the soil. After planting, the bed was given a good watering. This is as much to settle the soil properly around the roots as it is for hydration.
In these two replanted beds we have four rows of nine plants each. As the crowns came in packs of ten, the spare was potted up and we will keep it going in case one of them fails to establish properly. We planted one row each of: the well regarded early season Honeoye; Royal Sovereign, perhaps the oldest cultivar still available and one I will keep growing for as long as I can; Aromel, a new variety for us, but a well established ever bearing sort considered to be particularly well flavoured; and the late season Florence. We will have to wait until next year to get a good crop from these new plants, but hopefully we can get another three seasons before they need replacing again. If they appear to be free from noticeable disease we can pot up some runners to replace them; if not they will be replaced with new certified stock.