I have finally discovered the secret to successfully growing strawberries in North Texas:
Everything I’ve read about growing strawberries stresses their need for access to adequate direct sunlight, but this is not only untrue, it’s bad advice for Texans. After 4 frustrating years and countless dollars spent on new plants (to replace those that burned up and withered away every July and August), I performed a last-ditch experiment in what I assumed was a useless portion of my garden due to its lack of exposure to sunlight—and finally enjoyed success with strawberries.
It’s not just that this strawberry patch is in a spot where it’s almost totally blocked from the sun by the southern and western fences (and from any northern rays thanks to an apple tree), it’s that the plants sent out runners into even darker places—and the new plants formed by those runners thrived. They flourished. One inhospitable place was underneath the dense canopy of asparagus ferns; another was behind the beehive—which I guarantee never received a drop of direct sunlight.
I feel obligated to state that this past summer was unusually mild compared to the previous four. However, most of the new plants I put into existing strawberry patches (with exposure to sun) still suffered the exact same fate as in the previous four years. Hopefully the shade-bound patch will survive future summers that are more brutal than this past one. And yes: I’m officially retiring all the other strawberry patches.
It is apparently better to set out strawberry plants in what we call Fall (around the first of October—after the really hot days have finally subsided). Strawberry plants are surprisingly cold tolerant and will continue to grow (or at least stay green) despite some freezes and frosts (though they will eventually go dormant for the darkest/coldest part of winter). Setting out the young plants in Fall presumably increases your chances of harvesting berries the next spring.
Notice I say apparently and presumably, because I’ve only read about Fall planting (and from the same sources who said strawberries need x amount of direct sunlight…). I personally have only set out plants in the spring—which requires you to wait an entire year before harvesting any berries (assuming your plants survive the summer).
Also, I understand from research that Chandler strawberries are the variety best suited to our climate, and all of the plants in my successful patch are Chandler (though so were many of the dead ones in my sunny patches). Chandlers are hard to find, however; few local nurseries sell them.
There are three photos accompanying this report. The first shows the 15 plants I started with (taken on June 5, about 1 month after I bought and transplanted them). The second shows the patch today (December 1). This is incredible growth and expansion—and the opposite of what I usually see, which is an actual decrease due to browning and withering from July-September. But here’s what’s most interesting: the third photo shows how the plants are deliberately sending their runners into the shadiest spots available—areas that get absolutely no direct sunlight. You can see the stalks of asparagus along the west fence (cut back for winter) and how the plants have sought to hunker down in their shade, as well as right along the base of the fences.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to successfully keep the rats, birds and bunnies away from all the ripening fruit this spring—and find more shady spots on my property for even more strawberry plants….