Dec 4, 2015
Matted-row strawberry variety trial results

It’s the time of year when many growers are figuring out what varieties to include in their strawberry orders. For an impartial view of the performance of some of the newer cultivars, here are the first harvest year results from a matted-row trial at the Penn State Horticulture Research Farm at Rock Springs.
‘Malwina’ strawberry plant - from Germany.

‘Malwina’ strawberry plant – from Germany.

The experiment was established in 2014 and included 9 cultivars, including ‘Earliglow’ and ‘Jewel’ as standards for comparison, 4 advanced selections from the breeding program at Cornell and 3 advanced selections from the breeding program at Rutgers. Some of the varieties/selections were bred for plasticulture, but given the way they produced runners on plastic, we decided to try them out in matted row production also. Rows were on 4’ centers, and plants were originally planted 2’ apart.

The harvest season was fairly wet, and it seemed like the foliage almost never completely dried out. This was especially problematic with a couple of the very vigorous cultivars, and is reflected in the high percentage of fruit loss to gray mold that they had. We also had a hot spell in the middle of June, which likely spurred on some fruit anthracnose development, which was problematic for other cultivars. I guess the good part in all of this was that it turned out to be a good year for testing disease susceptibilities. No fungicides or insecticides were sprayed during harvest, and only one insecticide application was made during the summer primarily for Japanese beetle foliar feeding.


‘Earliglow’ and ‘Jewel’ performed as expected – yields were good, flavor was good, and other than Jewel having more common leaf spot that most of the other plants, they had no particular disease susceptibilities. For comparison with the rest of the cultivars, total yield was 8004 lb/a for ‘Earliglow’, and 12,745 lb/a for ‘Jewel’. With ‘Earliglow’, 53% of the fruit was marketable, with gray mold and some tarnished plant bug damage being the primary reasons for unmarketable fruit. For ‘Jewel’, 63% of the harvest was marketable, with gray mold being the primary reason for unmarketable fruit. Mean berry weight was 10.0 g/berry for ‘Earliglow’, and 11.3 g/berry for ‘Jewel’.

Order of ripening

This was a little difficult to sort out this year, as almost everything started to ripen at once. ‘Earliglow’ was the first variety to ripen, with ‘Jewel’ less than a week behind (!).


‘Galletta’, from the breeding program at NC State, was bred for plasticulture. It began ripening right after ‘Earliglow’, and wasn’t great for matted row – at least, not the first year. Yields were low at 4711 lb/a, but this berry had the largest size of all of the named cultivars at 13.5 g/berry. Berry size for the first 3 harvest was over 20 g/berry, and berries were nicely firm with good flavor and color. It bounced back after renovation, runnering well and filling the beds in very nicely, so we’ll see if the yields come up next year.


‘Laurel’, from AAFC-Nova Scotia, was also early. Total yield was high, at 10,379 lb/a, with 61% marketable fruit, and nice-sized berries averaging 11.0 g/berry. They were nearly twice this size for the first few harvests. The plants were very vigorous, and with our wet season, gray mold was the main reason for unmarketable fruit. Flavor was good, but not outstanding. Despite the vigor, the plants themselves were among the most disease resistant in the planting, with very little common leaf spot or leaf scorch. This is definitely one variety worth trying out.


‘Herriot’, from the breeding program at Cornell, apparently wasn’t suited to our warmer conditions. The yield was on the low side (5767 lb/a total), and only 32% of the fruit was marketable due to a truly impressive susceptibility to fruit anthracnose. Berry size was good, however, at 12.8 g/berry. Next year we’ll likely try spraying more and see what happens to anthracnose incidence.


‘Sonata’ was one of the top yielders, though it definitely was more productive when we had it in plasticulture. Yields were similar to those from ‘Jewel’, at 12,434 lb/a, with 56% of the fruit marketable, and an average berry size of 10.5 g/berry. It had very little trouble with foliar diseases, but because of vigorous foliage, gray mold was problematic on the fruit. Flavor was decent.


‘Rubicon’ plants were likewise extremely vigorous. Rubicon was bred from varieties that survived Jim LaMondia’s and Richard Cowles’ “death plots” that they used for black root rot research at the Conn. Ag. Expt. Station. Total yield was decent at 8244 lb/a, but the percentage marketable fruit was low at only 43%, primarily because the plants were so vigorous that the foliage never dried out so gray mold was problematic. The fruit also suffered a fair amount of damage from tarnished plant bugs. Berries were nice-sized (10.9 g on average), but they were light in color and on the tart side. The light color might come from one of its parents, ‘Idea’, which some of you may remember from a little over a decade ago.


‘Mayflower’ total yields were average at 7846 lb/a, but this cultivar had a higher percentage of marketable fruit (62%) than most. ‘Mayflower’ was somewhat susceptible to fruit anthracnose and tarnished plant bugs, perhaps because of its late harvest season when tarnished plant bug populations were higher, and berries were on the smaller side averaging 10.5 g/berry. ‘Mayflower’ was quite late, but its main characteristic of note was unusual flavor which different people described as “spicey”, “floral”, or “tangy” and usually “needs sugar”. The berries were pretty with large caps, but the variety’s susceptibility to leaf scorch often resulted in lesions on the caps.


‘Malwina’, from Germany, is later than any other strawberry I’ve ever seen. We picked our first ripe fruit on June 22, and we stopped harvesting it on July 15 so we could renovate the plots. At that point, its fruit was just trickling in. It produced very few runners, so the beds were not very well filled in, resulting in low total yields of 4353 lb/a. Fruit size averaged 10.5 g/berry, and 62% of the fruit was marketable. Fruit losses were due primarily to fruit anthracnose and tarnished plant bug injury, again likely prevalent because of the late harvest season.

Cornell advanced selections

Among the 4 Cornell advanced selections, one produced extremely high yields of 14,579 lb/a with large fruit averaging 11.9 g/berry. The percentage of fruit harvested was low, however (53%) because of significant susceptibility to fruit anthracnose, similar to the degree experienced with ‘Herriot’, and also gray mold. Another selection was extremely vigorous with very good yield (11,250 lb/a) but had small berries (10.1 g – similar to ‘Earliglow’). Two others were lower in yields and percent marketable fruit due to gray mold susceptibility.

Rutgers advanced selections

The three Rutgers advanced selections got everyone’s attention for an assortment of reasons. These cultivars were developed for use in the plasticulture system with flavor being the primary breeding objective. Plants were very small when planted and had difficulty becoming established, so I’ll want to see how they do in their second harvest year. All had very good flavor, except for one brief spell when flavors became a little “off”.

One selection in particular was very vigorous, produced decent yields despite the slow start, and after renovation was in second place for runner production of all 16 cultivars or selections. The most interesting characteristic of this selection was its very unusual long narrow shape, so it might take some creative marketing to encourage consumer acceptance, or perhaps people will just need to sample the berries. The two other selections had lower yields, but very good flavor. All 3 of these selections were included in a plasticulture variety trial at the SE Research and Extension Center. We’ll discuss the results from that trial next month.

The disclaimer is that varieties perform differently in different locations. It’s still always worth trying out at least a few plants of each variety on your own farm.

Kathy Demchak, Penn State University


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