If you’re dreaming over the strawberries you harvested in summer, it’s probably time you took another look at your berry patch. Autumn is when several varieties of strawberry (albeit it to a lesser degree) start producing all over again. The crop is nowhere near as plentiful as earlier in the year but the berries are somehow a lot tastier when there are fewer of them.
By now, most of us have lifted the netting off our strawberry beds and the plants themselves are looking tired and scruffy. But take a closer look and you’ll notice flowers popping up above the leaves. That’s your cue to take action. Grab the scissors and trim off those dead leaves. Also trim off any runners (these are the leafy tufts at the end of long stems which grow away from the plant in their search for a new growing spot) and pot them up. They will grow on over the winter and you can plant them into a new bed come spring. Alternatively, if you have garden that can accommodate them now, pop them straight into the soil.
To encourage your autumn strawberries to fruit, leave off the netting so the bees have easy access to the flowers (bees in cooler parts of the country are slowing down and you want to welcome those that are still about). As soon as young green fruit begins to appear, pop the netting back on. Once the flowers have disappeared, hurry along the harvest by covering the plants with clear plastic over night or during cold conditions. (Strawberries attract mildew very easily so don’t leave the cover on for more than 2-3 days without lifting it to provide much needed ventilation.)
In autumn, gardens are usually nutrient deficient after their active growth period over summer so mix up some liquid fertilizer by placing animal manure (not fresh from chickens or pigs as this will burn the plants), seaweed and a few scoops of compost into a large container of water. Let it steep for a few days, stirring often, then gently water the liquid onto the strawberry plants.
If you’re drooling over your ripening strawberries, you can be sure slugs and snails will be doing the same, especially in their wind-down to winter when food is becoming more scarce. Scatter slug and snail bait around the plants or get out after dark with a torch to collect the beasties and remove them from the bed.
Although it may seem like a lot of work to encourage strawberries to fruit in the cooler season, every bite is worthwhile. And, for some reason, late strawberries seem to have so much more flavour than those harvested in summer. I do wonder if it is because, at this time of year, the plant’s growth is going into fruit rather than leaf.
Tip: if your strawberry plants are not producing flowers in autumn, it may be because you are growing only main-crop varieties. For plants that also produce in autumn, look for the likes of ‘Seascape’ (especially good for drier areas of the country) and ‘Temptation’ which is high yielding and with berries that ripen over a long period from October to March.