Growing Strawberries in Granada Hills

Granada Hills resident Richard Mueller could be the king of Los Angeles strawberry growers. He recounts his success as follows:
“About 20 years ago, I bought about 20 plants of the Sequoia variety and have been propagating them ever since. I get varying amounts of berries all year round, from several berries to several boxes per day. This year, I separated and transplanted over 200 plants and gave away another 100.
“As for growing problems, I occasionally get aphids or mites, mildew, rotten fruit (even while they are still green), sow bugs, earwigs, slugs, snails and bird damage – not to mention the neighbor’s cats digging up the garden.
“To control the aphids and mites, I make a contact spray out of dishwasher detergent, mixing 2 teaspoons per gallon of water. I also use snail pellets and diazanon granules. I put out bird netting when the birds become bothersome.
“I don’t bother with any kind of mulch to keep the fruit off the ground. Instead, I make sure the fruit is either suspended in midair or growing on one or more strawberry leaves. I move the green fruit to better positions as I pick the ripe ones.
New plants in two months
“Before planting (actually, transplanting) in a new area, I spade to a depth of about 8 inches and mix homemade compost and steer manure into the soil. Then the plants are placed about 8 inches apart. Before planting, the new plants – which have been produced on runners of the older plants – are dug up and soaked in a mixture of Miracle-Gro and water. After transplanting, it takes about two months for fruit to appear on the new plants.
“I originally used the `square-foot’ gardening method, but found that the middle of a 4-foot-by-4-foot garden was too difficult to reach. So I rearranged my garden into 3-foot-wide strips, about 20 feet long, that can be easily accessed from both sides.
“Once or twice a month, I spray on Miracle-Gro to keep the plants growing.”
The strawberry is classified as a false fruit. The edible part is, in reality, the highly developed tip of a flower stalk, known as the receptacle. The true fruits of the strawberry are achenes, those tiny raised specks on the surface of the fleshy, edible receptacle. Each achene contains a single seed. The strawberry shares its false-fruit categorization with the apple, the pear, the quince and the loquat, whose edible portions are also, in large part, receptacles. For a beautifully illustrated and down-to-earth explanation of plant anatomy, consult “The Visual Dictionary of Plants,” published by Dorling Kindersley.
The etymology of “strawberry” is detailed by M. Grieve in her classic book, “A Modern Herbal” (Dover Publications). She rejects the accepted wisdom on how the strawberry got its name. “The common idea that the word `strawberry’ is derived from the habit of placing straw under the cultivated plants when the berries are ripening is quite erroneous.
What’s in a name?
The name is older than this custom and preserves the obsolete preterit (verb tense) “straw” of the verb “to strew,” referring to the tangle of vines with which the strawberry covers the ground.”
The strawberry plant has a number of unpublicized side benefits. Nicholas Culpepper, who catalogued the medicinal uses of plants 350 years ago, considered the strawberry “singularly good for the healing of many ills.” A tea made from its leaves will cure an upset stomach. These same leaves, according to Sir Francis Bacon, create `a most excellent smell’ when they begin dying on the plant. The strawberry’s red juice will supposedly remove dental discoloration when left on the teeth for five minutes, and it will take away sunburn’s sting when rubbed into the skin and left there for half an hour.
If you’re driving to San Diego this summer, you might want to stop at Weidners’ Gardens, a one-of-a-kind nursery in Encinitas, just east of the 405 Freeway. Evelyn Weidner is the first grower in California to introduce dwarf pot gingers, which have just been hybridized in Hawaii.
These gingers are not fragrant, but they bloom abundantly in July and August and are especially meant for the patio or balcony. Weidner sells several cultivars – with white, pink or orchid-colored flowers. These so-called “Jungle Jewels” (Globba winitii) have pendulous flower clusters beneath handsome green and maroon leaves. The plant goes completely dormant during the winter, but comes back reliably from its tubers each spring. It also produces bulbils at the base of its inflorescences, which can be planted to increase your collection of “Jungle Jewels.”
Weidner is also introducing a nonvining, compact Pandorea cultivar with pink flowers called “Southern Belle.” As long as it is protected from hot sun, “Southern Belle” will bloom from spring to fall in any bright or partial-sun locations.
Tip of the week: During the summer, a lawn requires at least five times more water than a bed of perennials. Cut wide swatches out of your lawn along the edges, where it meets house, driveway, sidewalk or street and convert these areas to perennial beds, if you want to save water and money in the months ahead.

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