Among the daffodils, hyacinths, pansies and petunias bursting into bloom lies one of springtime’s most delicious gifts: freshly harvested Alabama strawberries.
These berries are at their sweetest and juiciest this time of year, beating by a mile the bland, picked-too-soon strawberries typical in winter and early spring.
The secret to increasing the quality and taste of these berries lies in the practice of companion planting, as encouraged by the Old Farmer’s Almanac for over a century.
Companion planting aims to mimic nature by creating relationships between plants that provide mutual help to one another. Strawberries have an unexpected companion plant: onions. Spring or green onions, to be exact. Spring onions are a variety of scallions or green onions with a strong flavor, distinctive bite and brisk fragrance. All onions have antibiotic, antiseptic and antimicrobial qualities, which can help keep various infections at bay.
This odd couple pairing benefits both in a variety of ways, one of the most important of which is pest protection. Even small spring onions are odorous enough to mask the sweet tempting smell of sun-drenched, ripe berries. Critters searching for the sweet treats will be thrown off-scent by the pungency of onions nearby. The strawberry plant does its part, too. The crisp, fresh green flavor of spring onions is enhanced when cultivated in relatively cool conditions. When strawberry plants are grown near tender onion plants, they help filter the sunlight and keep the ground temperature cooler for their onion friends. The plants coexist to naturally produce healthier and tastier crops.
There are no adverse effects to planting these two together. Both have similar soil requirements — well-drained soil in full sun. Both companion plants can be set out together in early spring. They can be planted in alternating rows, or the onions can be planted in the packed soil between the strawberry mounds. Onion plants could also be planted around the perimeter of the strawberry patch.
Greg Burris, local strawberry farmer and owner of Burris Farm Market in Loxley, has been growing berries in Baldwin County since 1984.
“Strawberries are as popular as ever,” he shares. “They are a cold-weather crop. I get my plants from Canada and Nova Scotia and get them in the ground around October 25. They can be harvested, depending on temperatures, into May.”
Onions are not the only favored companion plants for strawberries. Other good friends include flowers, such as marigolds, which help keep pests away with their strong floral scent, and herbs such as garlic, sage and borage.
Companion planting is a beneficial way to help both plants thrive and provides two tasty additions to the spring dinner table.
Why Companion Planting?
Companion planting can deter pests and act as an insect repellent. Garlic works well as a companion for strawberries or potatoes.
Some companions will attract beneficial insects. The herb borage, for example, attracts pollinating bees.
Larger companions can help regulate sunshine exposure by providing shade for smaller plants that grow better in indirect sunlight.
Companion plants act as natural support systems. Tall plants, such as sunflowers or corn, support lower, smaller plants such as cucumber and peas.
Companions such as peas and beans can amp up plant health and soil fertility by providing more nitrogen.
Using companions can assist in suppressing unwelcome weeds.
Strawberries… Betcha Didn’t Know
• Strawberries are luscious members of the rose family.
• The common varieties today are hybrids of the wild Virginia strawberry.
• That delicious, succulent red fruit comes from tiny white flowers and runners used to propagate. That is why they are called strawberries – because those runners are like pieces of straw.
• Strawberries are native to North America. The first American colonists shipped them to Europe in the early 1600s. They grew abundantly in the wild back then.
• Strawberry cultivation began in earnest in the early 19th century when New York became the strawberry hub and began shipping the crop out in refrigerated railroad cars down south to Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama.
• Today, about 14 popular varieties are grown in the United States, from Albion to Ventana. They vary in size, taste and peak blooming season so ask your local nursery to find the right fit for your garden.