Planting and caring for strawberries in the fall

Now that I’m 29, one hard truth that I’ve come to accept about myself is that I’m a fairweather outdoor gardener. Unless I’m cleaning up our already established rose bushes, I water and attend to my outdoor plants based on whim. And when you live in the sweltering and bone-dry heat of the Central Valley, it’s not always realistic to expect literal fair weather in the summer — which is honestly key to my willingness to leave the house. On those insufferable 105-degree days, I’d much rather be parked in front of the portable air conditioner in my room with a good book and an iced coffee.

Hand holding strawberry plant

Most of the time, cacti and native plants are forgiving towards my inattentiveness. But herbs and edibles don’t fare very well in the heat outside, which means that they journey beyond the veil before the end of the growing season, unfortunately. (R.I.P. my indoor Thai basil.)

Right now, it’s a tolerable high 80s and low 90s situation in my nook of California (yes, even in September), but I’m actually surprised my zone 9 strawberry plant survived July and August. Even though the heat wave wasn’t as bad this year, I felt especially tired this summer for a gamut of different reasons (including my involuntary biphasic sleeping schedule), which meant I couldn’t care for my strawberries consistently when the temperatures peaked.

Strawberry plant closeup

My strawberry plant lost quite a few leaves in July but slowly bounced back these past two months with 3 to 4 waterings per week — now, it’s grown much bushier and even has about 10 strawberry flowers/fruits emerging! Since it’s an everbearing strawberry plant, this is to be expected — this strawberry type generally pushes out two to three yields of crops per year. But in 100-degree heat under lackadaisical care? Impressive.

Dog sniffing strawberry

(I should note that I spotted a half-eaten strawberry in the basket. The main culprits: the fence-hopping neighborhood stray cat, the sneaky garden lizards, a random bird, or my rascallion of a shih tzu during an unsupervised potty break.)

I expected to treat this strawberry plant as an annual, but now I’m hopeful it’ll survive fall and winter — I’ll probably overwinter it in November or December, which shouldn’t be too hard since it’s already in a convenient basket!

Purple pink chrysanthemums

But do you know what I’m planning to keep as annuals? My newly acquired “invisible string”-worthy purple-pink chrysanthemums. Last weekend, I picked up some $3 purple mums from The Home Depot. After years of trying to grow them as perennials, I’ve finally succumbed to the fact that they work better as annuals where I live. I will enjoy my flowers while they last — my last potted mum died from a lethal combination of thrips and dry winter weather. From my understanding, mums work better as perennials if you plant them in the ground during the spring — but by then, I’m already daydreaming of dainty tulips and roses.

Anyway…time to harvest my strawberries before my dog another eager critter starts nibbling on them.

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