Strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) are a delicious, prolific addition to the home garden. Most varieties are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5, and some will survive in zone 4 and even into zone 3. These short-lived perennial plants are vigorous growers that spread rapidly by sending out runners, so proper spacing is essential to ensure that you can keep your strawberry patch neat, weed-free and productive.
1. Types of Strawberries
Strawberry cultivars fall into three general categories: June-bearing, everbearing and day-neutral. June-bearing varieties produce one large crop from late spring to early summer, and the plants can remain productive for 3 to 6 years. Everbearing and day-neutral varieties produce multiple crops throughout the growing season, but the plants are usually replaced after one or two years. You should consider the variety type when choosing your spacing system.
2. Matted Row System
June-bearing cultivars are often planted according to the matted-row system. The original plants are set out 15 to 30 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. The runners sent out by the new plants are arranged around the mother plants so that the original row becomes a wide row filled with strawberry plants. These "matted" rows should be maintained at a width of about 18 inches so there is enough space to walk and cultivate between rows.
3. Hill System
Everbearing and day-neutral cultivars send out fewer runners than June-bearers, so they are better adapted to the hill system. The original plants are set out 12 to 15 inches apart in rows 12 to 15 inches apart. Three of these closely spaced rows are grouped together and separated from adjacent three-row groups by an aisle that is about 3 feet wide. This aisle makes it easier to access the three-row groups for cultivating, harvesting and irrigation. Runners are removed to ensure that the plants do not become crowded.
4. Choosing Distances
The spacing distances in these systems are approximate, and you should fine-tune your planting according to your particular circumstances and goals. Use wider spacing if you expect any form of moisture stress in your garden, because under-crowded plants have more access to residual soil moisture. If you have abundant rainfall or irrigation, closer spacing may allow for a larger harvest relative to the area planted. Wider spacing allows for easier weeding and cultivation, so it is more appropriate for soil with high weed pressure. You should adjust the between-row spacing according to your method of cultivation -- for example, a large rototiller might need 4 feet between rows once the strawberry plants have grown to their full size.
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