The mere mention of ‘strawberries’ is enough to make someone think of the small, yet deliciously sweet fruit. The good news is that you can grow your very own and enjoy them when harvest season comes around.
Therein the problem lies- when to plant strawberries in Illinois? As it stands, you can start strawberry plants the moment the ground can be worked on, and after winter has passed. Specifically, March through April is the absolute best time to grow strawberries so they can be established before summer comes.
When Should I Plant Strawberries in Illinois?
The general rule is that Illinois garden growers should get to work as soon as the weather and soil allows. This usually happens in April but can be sooner once the danger of frost has passed.
As a plant, strawberries love getting full sun and are known to be hungry eaters. That said, you should pick a site that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight and remember to put in lots and lots of nutrients. We recommend putting in composted manure or similar organic matter ever so often for the best results.
It’s worthy to note that strawberries are short and low bearing, and you may not be able to reach and harvest the middle plants without trampling over the border ones. It’s recommended that you space them about four feet so you can kneel and pick the fruits as they ripen. Also, strawberry transplants should observe a space of around 18 inches apart.
Another important thing when planting strawberries is the depth. Take a look at the crown that’s connected to the roots- it must be above the soil, but not too high that the roots dry out. Too deep, and the crown tends to rot. Don’t cover the crown with soil, then water them in thoroughly after they’re installed.
You should time the planting to when it’s overcast or during a cloudy day. Afternoon works best so that your strawberries won’t get too stressed from the transplantation. The soil should be relatively dry and only watered once they’re settled in.
Illinois Hardiness Zone and First and Last Frost Date
Strawberries are weak against frost, which means you should plan ahead and avoid the cold to get to a successful start.
Illinois USDA hardiness zones range from 5 to 7. The risk of frost within the state starts from October 13 and ends April 25. There’s a great, if not absolute chance that frost will strike in Illinois from October 28 until April 1.
Strawberry hopefuls will get a chance to grow them 171 days per year. During these times there’s a very low chance of frost, and with a bit of luck and know-how establish a crop of strawberries that produce sweet and juicy fruits.
The only way to protect against frost is to cover the plants with mulch and hope for the best. Old blankets or sheets, as well as mulch three to four inches deep should be enough to keep the crowns and roots from being damaged.
The Best Strawberry Species to Grow in Illinois
Strawberries in Illinois are generally divided into three types- day neutral, everbearing and spring bearing. Spring bearer varieties offer the biggest fruit yield. However, everbearing strawberries will usually produce three harvest periods, and day neutrals keep churning out those fruits as long as it’s within the growing season.
If you like your strawberries to produce large fruits then the June-bearing Allstar should be at the top of your list, followed by Kent, Jewel, Delmarvel, Honeoye and Annapolis. Medium June strawberry plants include the Earligrow and Seneca species.
For day neutrals, it’s best to stick with Tribute and Tristar- these two have a reliable production rate and are particularly strong against most diseases that afflict strawberries. The fruit they produce are moderately-sized, and you can get a consistent bunch as long as you take good care of them.
When to Plant Strawberries in Illinois: Conclusion
Put your strawberries where they get full sun and combine with a well-draining, nutrient-rich soil and they’ll be happy for years on end. Organic matter is absolutely essential if you want your strawberries to grow fruitful and healthy. Too much of one thing can be bad though, so don’t put too much fertilizer and only apply when needed.
Related Article: Which Planting Zone is Illinois in?