Strawberries are one of the easiest plants to grow. They will fit into any size garden, grow well in pots and containers and are quick to give results.

There are a number of varieties available. A couple of good ones that do well here in Whanganui include; Aromas and Camarosa.

Aromas is a newer variety we have had for three years now at the garden centre. It is described by the breeders; The University of California as follows; "This is a day-neutral cultivar which has larger fruit and produces greater yields than Seascape strawberry plants.

The Aromas strawberry cultivar produces large quantities of late-season fruit. It also has a broader environmental tolerance and is more resistant to mildew, and is especially tolerant to spider mites. Flavour is very good."

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I grew this in 2015 and it performed very well with the perpetual summer that we experienced that year. Last year's summer of 2016/17 was, in contrast, one to forget. The low sunshine hours meant cropping was sporadic and yield was low.

I have got both Camerosa and Aromas growing this year. This should give me an early crop from October to January of Camerosa. Then from December to March, Aromas should be fruiting -- assuming that we have a good summer this year!

Strawberry varieties fall into two main categories; short day varieties and day neutral varieties. The biggest difference being that the fruiting peak falls at a different time, so if you plant a mixture of these varieties you will be harvesting fruit for a longer period.

Short day varieties initiate flowering when as the name suggests the days are short in winter and spring. Subsequently the bulk of the fruit of these varieties will start in early November, mostly finishing after Christmas.

As the days shorten in autumn, flowering is also initiated and small crop may be produced. Camerosa is a good short day variety.

Day neutral varieties, in contrast, will fruit any time of the year when the temperatures are warm enough for growth. These varieties tend not to have such a large flush of fruit at once but produce consistently for a longer period. Aromas is a good producing day neutral variety for Whanganui.

While strawberry plant-ings can be made year round, planting done in the cooler months tends to result in heavier cropping than plantings made in warmer months. If they are planted too late, ie. closer to the longest day (December), they will tend to produce an abundance of runners instead of fruit.

Where To Grow

There seems no limit to how and where strawberries can be grown, and they are fairly fool proof so anyone can plant them and be rewarded with fruit! Many will grow strawberries in pots and containers of various forms.

If you are planting strawberries in pots make sure you should use a specialty potting mix such as Tui Strawberry Mix. The biggest factor to growing good strawberries is site selection.

The plants need a sunny position and a well drained soil that has good structure. When planting strawberries in the garden the addition of compost or broken down animal manure will help improve soil structure and by bulking up the soil can give height that will aid in good drainage.

Mulching & Feeding

Mulching the soil surface between plants will prevent weeds, maintain an even soil temperature and prevent moisture loss in summer. A mulch such as pea straw will also help to keep the fruit clean. The traditional and very effective method of growing strawberries is to cover the raised mound with black polythene plastic or weed mat making a small slit for each plant. The black mulch attracts heat increasing soil temperature making fruiting earlier and the fruit clean from dirt.

� Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre