Juicy, sweet and relatively easy to grow, strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) are a favorite plant in home gardens. They can be grown in containers, in raised beds or along the ground in any location that has well-drained soil and full-sun exposure. Strawberries do not like very hot conditions, but they are also susceptible to late spring freezes, which is one reason why a frost-resistant strawberry variety sounds so appealing. There are some disadvantages, however.
Some Like It Cold
Strawberries are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. They prefer cooler climates over hotter ones, although strawberries can be grown as annuals in warmer regions. It's not that strawberries can't tolerate freezing conditions when they are dormant. Rather, it's that late spring freezes damage the flowers, which in turn reduces or prevents fruit production. Some home gardeners try to prevent this by cultivating only late-bearing varieties. Another method is to protect the plants from late freezes.
Protecting Against Frost
Home gardeners and commercial growers work hard to protect strawberries from late spring frosts. One of the most popular methods is to bury the plants in a thick layer of mulch, removing it a little at a time in the spring when the plants start to grow. Floating row covers can help as well, if used along with overhead irrigation. For home gardeners and commercial producers who tire of trying to protect their strawberries from late freezes, a truly frost-resistant plant would be a godsend. There is no such plant available commercially, but scientists are working to achieve a frost-resistant strawberry in two ways: genetic modification and selective breeding.
The fastest way of creating a truly frost-resistant strawberry is to genetically modify it. This has been successfully accomplished by injecting the gene from a cold-water fish into a strawberry, according to the Better Health Channel, a service of the state government of Victoria, Australia. Strawberries modified in this way are not yet available for purchase on the commercial market as of 2013, but even if they were, consumers might be cautious about cultivating them. According to the Better Health Channel, there are many uncertainties about genetically modified foods, including whether consuming them might lead to the development of new allergens, cross-breeding contamination issues and the long-term possible health effects of consuming food that has been genetically modified to include genes from an entirely different species.
Selective breeding is how most new cultivars of plants are created. It takes years to breed, test and evaluate new varieties of strawberries when conventional methods are used. In Norway, in 2011, scientists began using genetic markers to identify strawberry varieties that might truly be resistant to frost. The hope is that this might eliminate or at least reduce, the amount of testing needed before a variety can be identified as frost-resistant. The primary downfall of frost-resistant strawberries that have been selectively bred is the long time it takes to make their way to the market. According to the Research Council for Norway, it takes about 10 years for a new variety of strawberry to be approved for sale and consumption.
- Better Health Channel: Genetically Modified (GM) Foods
- The Research Council for Norway: Research for Frost-Resistant Strawberry Plants
- University of Illinois Extension: Growing Strawberries -- Types
- Aggie Horticulture: Fragaria X Ananassa
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Frost/Freeze Protection in Strawberries
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