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Day-neutral strawberries

Key points

  • Day-neutral strawberries have a longer harvest season and higher overall yields than June-bearing strawberries.
  • They yield best when grown on plastic mulch but can be grown on other mulch types.
  • They are usually grown under low tunnels but can also be grown in caterpillar tunnels, high tunnels or tabletop systems. 
  • They can be grown successfully on both organic and conventional farms.
  • UMN research has allowed us to learn a lot about how to grow day-neutral strawberries successfully and sustainably in the upper Midwest.
Three people installing low tunnels over day-neutral strawberries at a research plot.
Installing low tunnels over day-neutral strawberries at a research plot at UMN

Day-neutral strawberries have different growing requirements than June-bearing strawberries:

  • They are grown as annuals.
  • They are typically grown under protected culture (low tunnels, high tunnels).
  • They are harvested for a longer season.
  • They have higher yields. 
  • They require more maintenance throughout the growing season. 

Day-neutral varieties are not sensitive to day length, which means the plants flower and fruit continuously when temperatures are moderate. Because of this, day-neutral varieties typically produce fruit from July through October or until the first killing frost.

June-bearing strawberries, on the other hand, form flower buds during the short days of fall. These buds complete their development and bloom the following spring, which is why they produce fruit during a short window in late June to early July.

Day-neutral strawberries are commonly grown under low tunnels, though this is not required for successful production. Low tunnels are thoroughly tested and found to be the most effective method for growing day-neutral strawberries. Caterpillar tunnels and high tunnels can also be used, but these cost more than low tunnels.

Whichever system you choose, protected culture will increase the season length and greatly reduce disease compared to open-field conditions.

Most day-neutral strawberry varieties grow best between 45°F and 85°F. The plants stop growing in temperatures lower or higher than that range.

Strawberries have shallow root systems, so during the summer when temperatures can be over 85 degrees, finding ways to cool the plants may improve flower initiation and thus fruit production. University of Minnesota research trials have found that white on black plastic mulch performs well for this purpose.

Videos

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Day-neutral strawberry varieties

A growing number of day-neutral varieties are available for production in Minnesota. The varieties below have been compared in University of Minnesota trials under low tunnels and in open fields. Variety performance will vary from farm to farm. Before committing to one or two varieties, experiment with several to determine which are best for your site. 

  • Albion
  • Evie-II
  • Monterey
  • Portola
  • San Andreas
  • Seascape

Generally, day-neutral varieties are just as sweet as June-bearing varieties. San Andreas and Albion were found to be the sweetest in UMN trials. Portola had the highest yields but was the least sweet of the six varieties tested. However, all varieties tested are relatively sweet.

Planting and setting up low tunnels

Day-neutral strawberries require the same soil and sites as June-bearing cultivars. Plant them in the early spring, at the same time as June-bearing cultivars. 

If a bed shaper is available, plant on a 6- to 8-inch tall raised bed as shown in the videos above. The raised bed provides higher spring soil temperatures and better drainage, allowing faster establishment and earlier harvest. 

Using a plastic layer attachment, cover the beds in white-on-black plastic. University of Minnesota research has found that day-neutral strawberries yield best on white-on-black plastic. The strawberries have lower yields when grown on straw. Landscape fabric can potentially work for some growers, but it carries logistical challenges such as removing, cleaning and re-using the fabric from year to year.

Plant the strawberry plants into 2 rows per bed. The rows should be 8 to 12 inches apart with 8 to 12 inches between plants within the row. Day-neutral varieties can also be planted in single rows 3 feet apart with plants 6 to 9 inches apart in the row. Multiple rows per bed bring higher yields per acre than single rows. Leave 18 to 24 inches between each bed to allow for movement of pickers and equipment. 

In the inter-row spaces, lay landscape fabric, plant a cover crop or leave the soil bare. UMN research found that test plots with landscape fabric between rows had higher yields than plots with cover crops between the rows. This is likely because the plants are sensitive to competition for water and nutrients (see video below).

Managing day-neutral strawberries

  • Remove flowers from day-neutral plants for four to six weeks after planting to encourage vegetative growth. When plants have developed five or six expanded leaves, they should be allowed to flower. 
  • Remove runners throughout the season to encourage greater fruit production.
  • Harvest every 1 to 3 days. Harvesting every 1 to 2 days decreases spotted wing drosophila (SWD) infestation and increases marketable yield.
  • Manage weeds between the rows by mulching between the rows, hand-weeding and hoeing. Cover crops may be used between the rows, but they will not necessarily outcompete weeds unless vigorous varieties are planted at high seeding rates.
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Marketing day-neutral strawberries

Growing Day Neutral Strawberries for Market (Webinar recording: 00:59:51)

Authors: Annie Klodd, Emily Tepe and Emily Hoover, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2021

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