Day-neutral strawberry varieties offer growers in many areas the ability to provide strawberries throughout a period of four to five months, or longer under protection.
Unlike June-bearing varieties that produce fruit over a more concentrated harvest period, day-neutral varieties flower and fruit continually over the growing season with temperatures between 40°– 90° F. Day-neutrals begin to ripen in late May and June. Production continues through October depending on weather conditions and use of protective structures. We recommend planting two varieties for the best season extension. The fall crop is the largest of the two crops the first year. In the second year, the spring crop provides good yields beginning in mid - late May. Though day-neutrals require constant attention, the returns can be quite high, particularly if priced appropriately. Many growers can charge the same price for one pint of day-neutrals that they typically receive for one quart of a June-bearing variety.
PREPARING TO PLANT
ay-neutral strawberries perform best in a production system tailored to their long fruiting season. They are generally grown on raised beds covered with a black or reflective plastic mulch to suppress weed and warm the soil. Drip irrigation is laid on the soil’s surface (covered by the mulch) and provides plants with water and nutrients. We recommend building the beds late fall or early spring, so they can be planted as soon as possible in spring, preferably by late April. Delaying planting into June can significantly decrease yields the first year.
CHOOSING A VARIETY
There are a number of variety options available for growers:
• ALBION (U.S. Plant Patent #16,228) With high yields of large berries, Albion is fast becoming one of the most popular day-neutral varieties for commercial growers. The fruit are firm with good flavor and red color. A good watering and nutrient program -- specifically nitrogen -- is necessary to attain the high yields this variety is capable of. Increased spacing will allow the fruit to reach maximum size. Albion is resistant to Verticillium wilt and Phytophthora crown rot and shows some resistance to anthracnose crown rot.
• SEASCAPE The standard for flavor in commercial day-neutrals, Seascape is a top performer. Though berries can start smaller, they quickly increase to a large size while maintaining firmness and the excellent flavor for which they are known. Seascape plants have the potential to be the most productive of any day-neutral variety.
• EVIE-2 (Patent Applied For). This day-neutral is easier to grow, higher yielding and less sensitive to the warm summer temperatures that shut down day-neutral production in the East and Midwest. Berries have an attractive red color, good flavor and maintain their size. In fruiting trials at Nourse Farms, Evie-2 produced the largest spring crop of any day-neutral variety we have tested to date.
• PORTOLA (U.S. Plant Patent #20,552) Fruit is lighter in color and should be harvested before fully red. A very high yielding variety, Portola has good flavor, ripening as early as Evie-2. This variety will perform in warmer climates.
• SAN ANREAS (U.S. Plant Patent #19,975) One of the largest berries of any day-neutral variety. San Andreas is a consistent-yielding variety, and is used as a second variety by many growers. The berries are firm with good flavor and lighter red color than other day-neutrals.
As noted earlier, it’s important to plant early in the spring. The earlier the planting, the higher the yield. We recommend planting in a staggered, double row on black or reflective plastic mulch with drip irrigation. For planting, many growers have had great success using our Plasticulture Tool. This stainless steel tool is designed to push dormant, bare-root strawberry plants through the plastic at the correct planting depth with little disturbance to the plastic. Fertilize the planting with 2 lbs. of actual nitrogen per planted acre per week for the first few weeks after planting.
Growers in many parts of the country have had success with the use of low-tunnels – coverings of rows with plastics on metal hoops. The tunnel plastics not only exclude rain, but they can decrease the amount of ultraviolent light and infrared radiation. This can reduce fungal spore germination as well as heat load on plants. They also provide some protection from cold temperatures allowing for harvest well into the fall. Install tunnels when plants begin to send the first new flower trusses. Cover the tunnels with 4 -6 mil plastic keeping one side of the plastic up under normal weather conditions to allow for pollination and to prevent heat buildup. Lower the sides during cold or stormy weather and once temperatures fall below 40. If the temperature falls below 30° F, you can cover the field with a row cover to preserve ripening fruit.
Once the plants begin to set fruit, increase nitrogen to 5 lbs/ acre per week through the drip irrigation system. Failure to provide weekly applications of nitrogen is a major reason for producing lower yields than anticipated. Plants begin to fruit in July or early August. Harvest the fruit at least twice per week. Peak yields occur in September with fruiting continuing possibly into early November. Once harvest is over, remove any tunnels or rowcovers, if used, and cover beds with a thick mulch once the soil is frozen. You can remove the straw in late March/early April and allow the plants to fruit again that next season. In spring of the second year, you can expect a flush of fruit similar in yields to the previous fall. Depending on variety, ripening is similar to early Junebearers but can be accelerated with the use of tunnels and/ or row covers.
Many of the pests that impact June-bearing varieties can also be present in day neutrals, including fungi like Botrytis Fruit Rot and Powdery Mildew. Insect pressure comes primarily from Tarnished Plant Bug, Spotted Wing Drosophila and Slugs. Please contact us for control recommendations or your local Cooperative Extension office.