GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — With Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I would write about a red heart-shaped fruit, the strawberry. Last week we took a trip down to Ouray and on the way home we stopped at Russell Stover’s in Montrose. They had a huge sign, “Strawberries are Here.” My daughter decided that would be her gimme. Well they gave her the biggest strawberry I had ever seen. It weighed ½ lb and was covered in chocolate. That was her entire lunch. When I asked if the strawberry was from California, the sales women nodded in agreement.
We might not be able to grow ½ lb. strawberries (someone prove me wrong), but we can grow them. At altitude we naturally have wild strawberries.
One is the Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry, which grows in the Foothills to subalpine life zones. It blooms March-August and produces small red fruit.
I love to pick a few while out hiking but feel guilty that I am stealing from the birds and mammals. Wild strawberries are available in the nursery trade and make good groundcovers, but the small fruit do make it hard to make a batch of jelly.
And we have Fragaria vesca, woodland strawberry, which grows in mesic sites from plains to montane life zones. White blooms from March – May produce small edible fruits. This plant is ever-bearing, meaning it blooms and sets fruit a few times over several months.
We can grow strawberry cultivars at altitude.
I used to manage a nursery at 8100’, lived at 9600’, and preferred the ever-bearing or day neutral strawberries to the June bearing because some years I still had snow in early June on the ground. June bearing just bears once a year but produces the bigger fruit, maybe where that half pounder came from. Day neutrals do not care so much about the length of day, so they will set fruit continually. Some of the hardiest ever-bearing varieties of strawberries are Ogallala and Fort Laramie.
Always buy certified disease-free plants. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/strawberry-diseases-2-931/ Be sure to prepare your soil with a good compost. Pay careful attention to the planting depth, as they are extremely finicky about it.
Plants will need more water when they are fruiting. And they can have cold damage so don’t set plants out too early. Use straw and frost covers to protect your plants. We have a factsheet that goes into more detail about planting strawberries. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/strawberries-for-the-home-garden-7-000/
Make sure to get your fruit before the birds, chipmunks and other wildlife do. Netting can help with keeping them at bay. Contact your local Extension office for more specifics in your area. For now, enjoy the out of state heart shaped fruits, and enjoy the fruits of your labor later on. Nothing beats a fresh strawberry right out of the garden. Happy Valentine’s Day.
— Susan Carter, Colorado Mountain Gardeners
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