Garden strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) are among the most widely grown of all garden fruits. They are generally hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, although the hardiness of individual cultivars varies, and they can be grown successfully in all parts of Indiana.
Plant strawberries early in the growing season, typically in March or April, as soon as the soil is workable, so the plants have time to establish themselves well during their first year. Strawberry plants, however, are susceptible to damage from spring frosts. So be prepared to protect them with mulch or row covers in the event of freezing temperatures.
An area's average spring frost-free date is the date after which there is a 50 percent chance of freezing temperatures; two weeks after that date, the chance of freezing temperatures is 10 percent. In extreme southern Indiana, including Evansville, the average frost-free date falls between April 6 and 15. In much of the southern one-third of the state and along the Lake Michigan shore, the frost-free date is between April 16 and 25. In central Indiana and parts of northwest Indiana, the date falls between April 26 and May 5. In most of the northern one-third of the state, the frost-free date may be as late as May 15.
Varieties for Indiana
Strawberry cultivars fall into one of three groups: June-bearing, everbearing and day-neutral. June-bearing types produce a single crop of berries, usually in the middle of the growing season. Everbearing types usually produce two crops, one early in the season and another late in the season. Day-neutral types are a kind of everbearing strawberry, and some varieties produce fruit nearly continuously through the season.
June-bearing types do best in Indiana and are the most widely grown in the state. Recommended varieties include 'Earliglow,' 'Honeoye,' 'Red Chief' and 'Jewel.' 'Honeoye' and 'Red Chief' are somewhat more cold-tolerant than the other varieties; they are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8 and 3 through 9, respectively.
Everbearers recommended for Indiana include 'Ozark Beauty' and 'Fort Laramie,' and recommended day-neutral varieties include 'Tribute' and 'Tristar.' Day-neutral varieties are sensitive to heat and may not produce well in the heat of southern Indiana summers.
Strawberries grow best in areas with full sun and well-drained, loamy soil, but they can be grown in the range of soils types typically found throughout Indiana. In areas where the soil is heavy and does not drain well, consider planting in beds raised 6 to 8 inches above the surrounding soil level.
As soon as possible in early spring, prepare the planting area by incorporating 2 pounds of a 6-24-24 fertilizer per 100 square feet into the top 6 inches of the soil.
Planting and Watering
Set strawberry plants so that each one's crown -- the junction where the leaves emerge from the root system -- is at the level of the soil surface; planting too shallowly can cause the roots to dry out, and planting too deeply may cause the plants to rot in the ground.
Space individual plants 15 to 24 inches apart within each row, and space the rows 36 to 48 inches apart.
Water the plants' soil thoroughly at planting time, and water the soil throughout the growing season as necessary so that it gets 1 inch of water per week.