Strawberries are one of the easiest and best home garden fruits for kids to grow. They'll produce fruit throughout the summer, and children will love to pluck them right off the plant, wash and eat them. If your kids have yet to garden, strawberries are a perfect choice for their first experience.
You can let them plant and care for a whole patch, or just one or two plants in a strawberry jar or garden container. Be sure to engage your kids in the planting process and let them get their hands dirty. Then show them how to care for and water the plants. You can make this more fun for children by buying them their own watering cans. Don't forget to show kids how to pinch off plant runners to reap larger berries. And of course have them do the harvesting and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
You'll find most kids enjoy helping in the garden, where they're allowed to get dirty, get good exercise and learn firsthand where their food comes from. They'll also gain a good sense of nurture, nature and responsibility.
Here are some tips to ensure strawberry success:
■ When planting strawberries, be sure the crown is above soil level and the uppermost roots are a quarter-inch beneath soil level; buried crowns rot, and exposed roots dry out. Have kids measure and then dig holes for placing plants, depending on space and quantity. Strawberry plants should be placed about 14 to 18 inches apart from each other in neat rows that are separated by 2 to 3 feet each.
■ Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.
■ If you want to keep it simple, plant strawberries in a container. Just remember that container plantings need much more water than in-ground plantings, usually once a day; and if it's hot, twice. Strawberry pots are the obvious, best container choice for growing strawberries. You can fit several plants in one pot; just make sure whatever type of garden pot you use has good drainage. Strawberries have a relatively small root ball and can be grown in containers as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you will need to water. Synthetic and light-colored pots will keep the roots cooler than dark colors and natural materials that conduct heat.
■ Strawberries like well drained fairly rich soil, so be sure to add compost or other organic matter when preparing the pot or patch.
■ They need full sun, and frequent, deep soakings. Be sure to give adequate water during bearing season. They will grow in all zones and should be fed twice a year when, growth begins and after the first crop. Use a complete fertilizer high in phosphorous for feedings.
■ Choosing plants. There are four types of strawberry plants: June-bearing, everbearing, day neutral and alpine. Use transplants; they're easier than seed, and the growing process will take less time.
Strawberry production and tips in Kentucky: Download a PDF of advice from the UK Cooperative Extension Service at Kentucky.com/home or Bit.ly/2lF5nw.
Growing strawberries in general: For more info and tips, go to Bonnie Plants at Bonnieplants.com.
The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service recommends these varieties for strawberries in Kentucky:
June-bearing: Earliglow, Mesabi, Darselect, Redchief, Allstar and Jewel.
Everbearing: Seascape and Tribute.
■ Download a PDF for picks for all fruit varieties for Kentucky from the Extension Service at Kentucky.com/home or at Bit.ly/Zs23fc.