Strawberries bring much delight to a garden and family dinner table. If your landscape proves too small for a traditional strawberry bed -- even if your "yard" is a patio or balcony -- a wooden pallet might be just what you need to make growing strawberry plants (Fragaria ananassa) at home a possibility. Although this method involves a few extra steps to ready the pallet for planting, the growing process remains the same. Time the pallet preparation and planting for spring, after the last frost, and you can enjoy fresh, homegrown berries every year.
1 Lay the pallet on a flat outdoor surface such as a walkway or driveway. Pour one part bleach and one part soapy water into a bucket. Dip a scrub brush in the solution then scrub the pallet's wood with the brush. Repeat this process over the pallet's entire surface to clean off any pathogens or chemical residues. Rinse the pallet thoroughly with water from a garden hose. Leave the pallet to dry for 24 hours.
2 Measure the length and width of the wooden pallet with a measuring tape. Add 6 inches to each measurement to allow for overhang along the edges. Spread a piece of landscape fabric on a flat work surface. Mark the pallet's measurements onto the fabric's surface using a piece of chalk. Cut the fabric to the correct size with a pair of scissors.
3 Place the pallet on a flat surface with the front side containing the slits facing downward. Spread the landscape fabric over the back of the pallet, lining up its sides. Pull the overlapping edges of the fabric down over the edges of the pallet.
4 Staple the fabric in place along the perimeter of the pallet's backside with a staple gun. Place one staple every 2 to 3 inches. Staple the edges of the fabric to the sides of the pallet, closing in the sides to prevent soil from spilling out. Staple the fabric to the wooden boards running down and across the middle portion of the pallet's back side.
5 Place the pallet, fabric side down, on a site that receives at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Position the pallet so that its slits run from north to south.
6 Pour 2 to 4 pounds of potting soil into a 5-gallon bucket. Pour 1/2-tablespoon of 10-10-10 nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium slow-release granular fertilizer for every pound of potting soil into the bucket. Mix the soil with a trowel until the fertilizer is dispersed evenly.
7 Pour the potting soil onto the top of the pallet. Push the soil through the slits into the pallet's interior. Repeat this process, mixing more soil and fertilizer if needed, to fill the pallet full of soil.
8 Select a strawberry start. Trim its roots to 5 inches in length with a pair of pruning shears. Create a hole in the soil of the leftmost slit with your fingers or a trowel, positioning it 2 to 3 inches from the pallet's top edge. Insert the strawberry's roots into the hole. Add or remove soil as needed to position the point where the plant's roots and crown meet at soil level. Fill the hole with the displaced soil, tamping it down around the roots.
9 Repeat the planting process, planting one start every 8 to 12 inches along the length of the first slit. Plant starts every 8 to 12 inches in each of the remaining slits, staggering them with the plants in the previous slit to create a checkerboard pattern.
10 Water the strawberry plants thoroughly with the garden hose. Move the stream back and forth across each slit of the pallet. Repeat this process two to three times to ensure that the soil becomes moistened evenly and completely.
11 Water the strawberry plants when the soil surface begins to feel dry. Apply 1 inch of water to the soil each time. Water plants during the morning hours to allow the plant's moistened leaves time to dry before nightfall.
12 Trim back any long, thin shoots from the plants as they appear. Cut each of these runners off at their base with pruning shears.
13 Mix 1-teaspoon of 20-20-20 nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium water soluble fertilizer with 1-gallon water in a watering can. Apply the fertilizer every 10 to 14 days throughout the growing season, beginning three months after planting the strawberry starts. Apply the fertilizer at a rate of 2 2/3 cups per square foot of soil.
14 Spread a 3-inch deep layer of straw or mulch over the plants once temperatures drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the fall. Build the straw up around the sides of the pallet to insulate the outermost plants. Remove the straw once temperatures rise and remain above freezing in the spring.
15 Dig up the strawberry plants every two to three years in the spring. Dump the old potting soil out of the pallet. Mix new potting soil with 10-10-10 n-p-k fertilizer as before. Refill the pallet with the new soil. Divide and transplant the old strawberry plants or plant new starts.
Items you will need
- Ammonia-free soapy water
- Small bucket
- Scrub brush
- Garden hose
- Tape measure
- Landscape fabric
- Staple gun
- Potting soil
- 5-gallon bucket
- 10-10-10 slow-release granular fertilizer
- Pruning shears
- 20-20-20 (n-p-k) water-soluble fertilizer
- Watering can
- Straw or mulch
- Plant the strawberries in the morning on an overcast day to minimize transplant shock.
- Soak the blades in one part water and one part 70 percent isopropyl alcohol to sterilize them. Always disinfect the pruning shears' blades before and after pruning.
- Only use pallets containing a stamp that reads HT, or heat treated, to ensure that the wood contains no chemicals.
- Do not use pallets with visible chemical or oil stains or rotting wood.
- Do not use soap that contains ammonia: mixing ammonia and chlorine bleach creates dangerous fumes.
- Growing a Greener World: Creating a Pallet Garden -- Step by Step Instructions
- One Hundred Dollars a Month: Pallet Gardening 101: Creating a Pallet Garden
- University of Minnesota Extension: Strawberries for the Home Garden
- The Ohio State University: Vegetable Container Gardening
- University of Illinois Extension: Growing Strawberries
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