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Strawberry nutrient management

Key points

  • Nutrient management depends on the production system (June-bearing vs. day-neutral), soil type, crop history, nutrient sources, and nutrient delivery systems.
  • All strawberry plants need nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and other nutrients for vigorous vegetative growth and fruit production. 
  • Nutrient management tools include soil-applied fertilizer, fertigation, foliar feeding, and maintaining organic matter.
  • In general, growers should apply P, K, and part of the N before planting. Time subsequent applications depending on the production system and foliar testing.
  • Use soil testing, foliar testing, and plant vigor to fine-tune your nutrient management — do not rely only on general recommendations.
  • Take care not to over-fertilize, especially with N. 
  • For many soil types, yields are more frequently reduced from lack of water, poor soil drainage, and poor soil physical properties than from a lack of fertilizer.

Soil testing

Test soil nutrient concentrations, organic matter, and pH at least a year before planting, especially if a soil test has not been done within the last 3-5 years. If the pH needs amending, it takes up to a year for amendments to change the pH to the target number. 

Use the soil test results to amend the soil nutrients and pH accordingly, based on recommendations for strawberries. See our resources on soil and foliar testing. 

Soil pH is a key factor in maintaining a favorable root environment. It not only affects root growth but influences the availability of important nutrients.

  • Strawberries prefer slightly acid soil (pH 5.3 to 6.5).
  • If the pH is less than 5.3, add lime to raise it to the appropriate pH range.
  • Follow soil test recommendations for rates of lime to apply.
  • Incorporate the lime thoroughly at least one year prior to planting.
  • If the soil pH is too high, add elemental sulfur a year prior to planting.

Organic fertilizer

No matter how you define your management practices, good soil fertility management is achieved by increasing soil organic matter, biological activity, and nutrient availability. In addition to using cover crops or manure, organic growers will still likely need to apply some type of supplemental fertilizer.

While organic growers are prohibited from applying synthetic fertilizers, they can still incorporate commercially available organic fertilizers. Fertilizers acceptable for organic production usually have a low nutrient analysis and are made up of larger insoluble compounds that take time to be broken down into forms usable by the plant. 

Because of the low nutrient analysis associated with organic fertilizers, they need to be applied in larger quantities than conventional fertilizers in order to get the same nutrient value.

Of all the essential nutrients, nitrogen is usually the one that is the most limiting and also the most difficult to manage in an organic system. The most common source of nitrogen for organic production is composted manure. However, it is important to note that the nitrogen in composted manure will not all be available to the strawberries during the first year. This is especially important for those growing day-neutral cultivars as annuals, as additional nitrogen sources will likely be required.

For annuals, nutrients can be supplied throughout the season via fertigation. There are numerous organic, water-soluble nitrogen fertilizers available.

General fertilizer recommendations for June-bearing strawberries

The planting year

  • Before planting: If test-based nutrient amendments have not yet been added, broadcast and till them into the soil prior to planting.
    • Phosphorus and potassium are important macronutrients that should be added at this point, as they are more difficult to add after the plants are in the ground.
    • Add half of the total recommended N at this point.
  • If the soil has been properly amended prior to planting as described above, further nutrient needs in the planting year should generally be limited to nitrogen and small supplements only if needed based on foliar testing. 
  • Apply the remaining half of the total recommended nitrogen again in August during runner plant production.

Production years (2-5)

  • Nitrogen is best applied after harvest, during renovation. Nitrogen (N) promotes vegetative (leaf and runner) growth and can reduce fruit quality if applied before or during harvest in medium or heavy soil. 
  • Be careful not to over-apply nitrogen.
    • Too much nitrogen not only risks reducing fruit yield but can cause excessive late-season plant growth so that the plants don’t have adequate time to harden off for winter.
    • Nitrogen also moves very readily in the soil, so over-application can lead to nitrate pollution.
    • Similar problems can arise with the over-application of many other nutrients.
  • Only apply nitrogen before harvest unless plant vigor is very poor, or the plants are growing on coarse-textured soils (sands, loamy sands, sandy loams) that are extremely low in organic matter. 
  • If needed, based on in-season foliar testing, apply P and K immediately after renovation.

Nitrogen (N) recommendations for June-bearing strawberries

Soil Organic Matter (O.M.) level1 Low Medium High Organic soil2 Method/Timing3
Establishment year 80 lbs N/acre 70 lbs N/acre 60 lbs N/acre 25 lbs N/acre Split application: Apply 1/2 before planting and 1/2 in August during runner production
Bearing year4 80 lbs N/acre 70 lbs N/acre 60 lbs N/acre 25 lbs N/acre Immediately after renovation
  1. Low = less than 3.1% OM; Medium = 3.1-4.5% OM; High = 4.6-19% OM
  2. Organic soil = greater than 19% OM
  3. Suggested methods of application are a general guide and can be modified when appropriate; if nitrogen is applied in the spring, do not apply more than 15-20 lbs/A.
  4. Leaf analysis should also be used to help determine nitrogen needs

Phosphorus (P) recommendations for June-bearing strawberries

Soil test P level results (ppm)
Bray-P1 0-10 11-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 51+
Olsen-P 0-7 8-15 16-25 26-33 34-41 42+
P2O5 to apply1
Planting Year 150 (lbs/A) 125 (lbs/A) 100 (lbs/A) 75 (lbs/A) 50 (lbs/A) 25 (lbs/A)
Bearing Year2 100 (lbs/A) 50 (lbs/A) 25 (lbs/A) 0 0 0
  1. Apply based on test results and incorporate before planting. If needed during bearing years, apply immediately after renovation.
  2. Leaf analysis should also be used to help determine phosphorus needs.

Potassium (K) recommendations for June-bearing strawberries

Soil test K level results (ppm)1 0-40 41-80 81-120 121-160 161-200 201+
Planting Year 150 (lbs/A) 125 (lbs/A) 100 (lbs/A) 75 (lbs/A) 50 (lbs/A) 25 (lbs/A)
Bearing Year2 100 (lbs/A) 50 (lbs/A) 25 (lbs/A) 0 0 0
  1. Apply based on test results and incorporate before planting. If needed during bearing years, apply immediately after renovation.
  2. Leaf analysis should also be used to help determine potassium needs.

Please see the publication Nutrient management for commercial fruit and vegetable crops in Minnesota for more information.

Maintaining soil health in strawberries

Nutrient management for strawberries is not just about adding nutrients, it is also about maintaining healthy soil. Support soil health by increasing soil organic matter, biological activity, and nutrient availability. Before planting strawberries, increasing soil organic matter through the use of cover crops and crop residues will help provide nutrients to the strawberry plants.

Organic matter improves the structure of soil, enabling it to better retain moisture, air and nutrients. It also improves the drainage and aeration of clay soils and improves the water and nutrient holding capacity of sandy soils.

In any soil, organic matter increases soil microbial activity, which improves nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation.

Compost and well-rotted barnyard manure are both valuable sources of organic matter. Working them into the soil can improve soil physical properties and fertility over time. Watch phosphorus (P) levels, as some manures are very high in phosphorus and excess soil P can be damaging to the environment.

The year before planting, consider planting a green manure crop. Green manure crops add organic matter to the soil and help maintain desirable soil physical properties. Sow green manure crops in the spring, a year before planting. Incorporate the green manure into the soil before it goes to seed. Options include: 

  • Rape (12.3 lb seed/A)
  • Camelina (4.5 lb/A)
  • Rye (63 lb/A)
  • Oats (60.5 lb/A)
  • Soybean (75 lb/A) with either foxtail millet (18 lb/A) or Japanese millet (19 lb/A)
  • Proso millet (38 lb/A)

Video: Using Compost to Improve Soil in Strawberry Fields (02:13)

Fertigation

Growers with drip tape for irrigation can also use it for fertigation. Information on fertigation in crop systems can be found in Applying nitrogen with irrigation water: Chemigation

Foliar feeding

In general, foliar feeding is used as a means of supplying supplemental doses of both micronutrients and macronutrients, plant hormones, stimulants, and other beneficial substances. However, it is not always necessary and is not a substitute for soil health or soil fertilization.

The need for additional micronutrients varies depending on soil type, so soil testing is important for determining this need prior to application.

Foliar feeding is best used as a supplement only when foliar nutrient tests indicate a need.

When foliar nutrient tests indicate a need, apply prescribed foliar fertilizers to coincide with specific vegetative or fruiting stages of growth as recommended by an Extension specialist.

Current research does not support the use of foliar feeding programs unless foliar testing indicates a need for specific nutrients. Minnesota researchers have found no yield benefit from using foliar feeding.

For more information on foliar feeding, see the section on foliar feeding in Nutrient Management for Commercial Fruit & Vegetable Crops in Minnesota.

Day-neutral strawberries

Specific nutrient management recommendations for day-neutral strawberries differ somewhat from June-bearing strawberries since they are grown as an annual crop.

The timing of fertilizer applications is different because the crop produces fruit for a much longer season and does not undergo renovation.

See our recommendations for day-neutral strawberries.

Authors: Annie Klodd, Carl Rosen and Emily Tepe, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2021

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