I first heard of 'Mara des Bois' five years ago, when a DG friend came across descriptions of its flavor that made her mouth water. The only source she found at the time was a bit pricey, so she ordered just a few beautiful plants. She gifted me with one of the original plants plus a couple of runners. After one amazing taste, I was hooked.
Despite various claims, ‘Mara des Bois' is not a wild strawberry or an antique variety . It's a fairly new hybrid of the "regular" garden strawberry, Fragaria ananassa, developed for its intense flavor by strawberry breeder Jacques Marionnet1, and introduced as a patented variety in France in 1991. The berries don't travel as well as grocery store varieties, but they have great gourmet appeal to local growers and home gardeners2.
Last spring, I was delighted to discover these strawberries being offered by Miller Nurseries3. My "future strawberry bed" wouldn't be ready for planting until early June, but they assured me the plants would remain dormant in storage and would be just fine to plant when I was ready. Sure enough, when the bundles of bare root plants arrived, they had just started to put up a few tiny leaves. The roots got a quick drink in the sink, then the strawberry plants were ready to be set out.
Strawberries do fine in average garden soil. My garden has a lot of clay, so I dug in some extra compost to the strawberry bed to improve drainage. Strawberry plants don't compete well with weeds. Prepare the planting area for them by killing as many weeds and weed seeds as possible. Some recommend double digging the bed, which can also improve drainage. Weed seeds can be killed with heat, but you won't need a blowtorch. Put down black plastic or cardboard for a couple of weeks to solarize the soil surface. Strawberries need extra water in most areas. Plan ahead, and include a soaker hose or other irrigation.
Most strawberry plants send out runners, small plants attached to the mother plant by an "apron string." Some advocate pinching all the runners so the plant puts all its energy into fruit production, Others plant their strawberries twice as far apart as needed to make space for setting a few runners between the starter plants. How you deal with the runners depends partly on whether you plant your strawberry patch in hills or in rows. After several years, the initial plants will be less productive, and you'll want to revitalize the bed4. New plants can be bought, and patented varieties must legally be purchased rather then propagated. I'm not sure if 'Mara' is still patented in some way, but the initial patent ran out last fall. New plants can also come from runners allowed to root the previous year. Once runner plants have rooted, go ahead and cut their apron strings, separating them from the mother plants.
June-bearing strawberry varieties do just as their name implies. They have a big early flush of fruit and then are pretty much done for the summer. Ever-bearing varieties like ‘Mara des Bois' won't have as many berries at one time, but they will continue flowering and fruiting throughout the summer. If you want to make strawberry jam, plant some June-bearers. For unbeatable fresh eating and garden snacking, put in a row or two of ‘Mara des Bois'. But don't count on them for jam. They seem to vanish before you can get them into the pot. They're irresistible!
Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. For additional information, "mouse over" images and links for popup captions.
Footnotes & Useful Links
1 ‘Mara des Bois' page from the Missouri Botanical Gardens site: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/plant-finder/plant-details/kc/f239/fragaria-mara-des-bois.aspx
2 "Growing Gourmet Strawberries Commercially" article from The Strawberry Store: http://www.thestrawberrystore.com/GrowingGourmetStrawberriesCommercially.pdf
3 Miller Nurseries description of 'Mara des Bois': http://www.millernurseries.com/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=1232
4 "Simply Strawberries" (DG article by timijo): http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3288/