Written by Rob M., Rutgers Master Gardener of Burlington County, and Kate Brown, Program Associate in Commercial Agriculture with RCE-Burlington County
Rutgers Master Gardeners of Burlington County are trained volunteers who deliver research-based horticultural information to county residents. To support their mission of outreach and education, Rutgers Master Gardeners have several demonstration sites throughout the county.
The Burlington County Agricultural Center in Moorestown is one location where Rutgers Master Gardener demonstrations can be found. The longest standing project at this site is the strawberry plot which was established in 2014 with two main objectives: 1) demonstrate how gardeners can successfully produce home-grown strawberries, and 2) evaluate yield and quality of strawberry varieties.
The following is a report on 2022 performance of the recently released Rutgers ‘D’Light’ strawberries.
Due to activity restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutgers Master Gardeners were not able to maintain the strawberry plot in 2020 and early 2021. In summer 2021, the plot was renovated and Rutgers D’Light plants were re-established from daughter plants of the original planting (Figures 1 & 2). Each row of Rutgers D’Light was approximately 1-ft. wide and 7-ft. long. Plot setup procedures outlined in Rutgers Fact Sheet FS097 were followed. After establishment, the plants were sidedressed with a 7-6-9 fertilizer in late summer and again in fall of 2021. In 2022, the plants were sidedressed with 0.5 pounds of 7-6-9 fertilizer on March 2, May 18, June 26, and finally on September 1.
Plots were netted to prevent deer and bird damage starting in March (Figure 1) and netting was removed once leaves died off in the fall. Watering was done either by soaker hose or overhead spray as needed throughout the growing season.
Once the harvest was complete, leaves were clipped off to 4” using scissors or hand-held pruners leaving the crown intact. Leaves and debris were removed by hand. All crowns and daughter plants were removed from pathways leaving row width to approximately 12-18”. Fresh straw was placed around the plants and on the walkways. Additional straw will be applied in late November after the first hard frost covering the plot to a depth of approximately 4”.
Ripe fruit was harvested from this plot almost daily between May 29 and June 18, 2022. At harvest, fruit was sorted into ‘marketable’ and ‘unmarketable’ (Figures 3 & 4). Fruit was considered unmarketable if there was incidence of disease (e.g. grey mold) or damage from pests such as sap beetles and slugs. The total number of marketable and unmarketable fruit was tabulated for each harvest date (Figure 5), but only marketable fruit was weighed (Figure 6).
Some extreme temperatures in the second half of May led to berries ripening quicker than normal. The temperature on May 20, 2022 was 87˚F followed by 95˚F and then 92˚F on subsequent days. On May 30, 2022, the temperature was 89˚F followed by 95˚F. The hotter than average temperatures also increased incidence of grey mold and damage from sap beetles and slugs.
Between May 29 and June 18, 2022, a total of 934 berries were harvested from the three half rows of Rutgers D’Light strawberry. Marketable berries comprised 75% of the total number of berries harvested (Figure 5), which resulted in a total of 21.8 pounds of fruit. The most productive day for these June-bearing plants was June 6, 2022 when a total of 86 marketable fruit were picked (Figure 5).
The largest fruit harvested were nearly 1.0 oz. each and these were harvested at the very beginning of the season in late May (Figure 6). Average berry size declined at the beginning of June and stayed within a range of 0.4-0.6 oz. per fruit for the remainder of the harvest season (Figure 6).
These Rutgers D’Light strawberry plants will be overwintered and evaluated again in 2023. Three other strawberry varieties that the Rutgers Master Gardeners established in spring 2022 will also be evaluated in 2023. These varieties are Dippity Do, Chandler, and Honeoye.
To learn more about growing strawberries in the home garden:
- Visit the strawberry demonstration plot at the Burlington County Agricultural Center
- Contact Rutgers Master Gardeners of Burlington County
- Check out Rutgers Factsheet FS097
Interested in becoming a Rutgers Master Gardener? Contact our Master Gardener coordinator, Mike Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at 609-265-5050 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday–Friday.