Our Fort Laramie strawberries have a national reputation for taste and winter toughness.
Photo courtesy Gardens Alive.
Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Dec. 26, 2020, “Our Fort Laramie strawberries have a reputation for taste, winter toughness.”
By Barb Gorges
“Fort Laramie Strawberries are from the ‘ice-box’ section of our nation, Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is a super hardy, wonderfully producing everbearing strawberry. You’ll harvest your first berries this very summer! And what berries – HUGE, bright, scarlet-red berries….”
–Burgess Seed and Plant Company, Bloomington, Illinois, online catalog description
January isn’t too early to order your strawberry plants for spring delivery.
The strawberry variety, Fort Laramie, touted in many catalogs, was developed here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station which opened in 1928. In 1974 it changed its mission and became the High Plains Grasslands Research Station.
Test plantings of strawberries began about 1934. The two most famous varieties, Ogallala and Fort Laramie, are still popular today.
Retired Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith remembers Gene Howard, the last director of the hort station before it switched, telling him these successful strawberries could trace their genetics back to native strawberries in the nearby mountains. The station’s successful plant varieties were often named for nearby places.
Selecting strawberry varieties
I talked to Jane Dorn, a veteran home strawberry grower who remembers spending summers with her grandparents on their ranch near Encampment and her grandfather growing Ogallalas. She’s grown Fort Laramies in both Cheyenne and in Lingle, where she and her husband retired.
Fort Laramie strawberries are classified as everbearing, compared to day neutrals that bear continuously, and June bearers which are less hardy here.
In Cheyenne, “everbearing” means if there isn’t a late frost that kills the flower buds, they will bear in June or early July. You’ll get a second flush in the fall if an early frost doesn’t get the flowers or ripening fruit. Their hardiness promise, Zone 3-7, is that with a little protection, the plants will survive from year to year.
While strawberries can be grown from seed, seeds are not as available as one-year-old plants. Fort Laramie plants are widely available online and in spring at local nurseries. Should you want to try other varieties, Jane suggested looking for those labeled as blooming “late mid-season” or “late.”
Chris Hilgert, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist, says other than the hardy Fort Laramie, Ogallala and Charlotte, other varieties may require growing in a hoop house to be successful. Or be prepared to cover your plants when frost threatens during berry development.
Chris will have a new publication on growing strawberries in Wyoming available early 2021 at https://www.wyoextension.org/publications/.
Fort Laramie strawberry plants are easy to find in online catalogs.
Photo courtesy Gurney’s.
Jane recommends straw or other winter mulch 6 inches deep. It can be pulled back in the growing season to suffocate weeds and keep the berries clean.
The best planting method for everbearers is the hill style. Soil is mounded about 8 inches high in a berm the length you need. The plants are spaced 12-15 inches apart in a double row. Removing runners allows each plant to put its energy into making more and bigger berries. Jane also uses raised beds, even an old water trough.
Planting starts is a bit tricky, Jane said. There’s barely an inch of stem between roots and leaves. Dig a hole deep enough that the roots can hang straight before you fill in the dirt. She said two-thirds of the crown (where the leaves have been attached) should be above the soil line.
Renovating your strawberries will be necessary every three or four years. Check there’s no disease before planting in the same place.
Don’t skimp on watering. Figure one inch of water a week. Put a container out in the garden and see how long it takes to fill to the one-inch mark when you irrigate. Drip irrigation works well. Morning watering is best. If leaves are damp at night, it increases the likelihood of powdery mildew.
Chris said fertilizing each year, and enough water, is the only way to get berries.
Jane is a fan of compost. Once she’s established the strawberry bed, a top dressing of compost will work itself in. You can also buy specially formulated strawberry fertilizer.
Jane weeds by hand. You don’t want herbicides killing your plants and hoeing could disturb the shallow roots. Pull weeds frequently, while they are small.
Every bird and other kind of critter loves strawberries! You’ll have to experiment with fencing, floating row cover and netting. Remember, some animals tunnel.
Shane mentioned red stele disease which is caused by a soil fungus. It is most prevalent when strawberries are grown in wet conditions in clay soils. The roots rot—the stele, or core of the root turns red. You’ll notice your plants are less productive. He suggests starting a strawberry bed in a new location with resistant varieties.
January isn’t too early to order strawberry plants. They’re shipped at the right time.
Photo courtesy Burgess Seed and Plant Company.