Strawberry plants are cold hardy and easy to grow, and they thrive in containers and raised beds. Best of all, home-grown strawberries taste a thousand times better than any store-bought variety. If you want to grow strawberries in your garden, here’s what you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Strawberries? one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
Where & How to Plant Strawberries
When planting strawberries, as with most plants in your edible garden, choose a sunny location with soil that drains well and is generously amended with compost. Strawberries prefer soil with a slightly lower pH than most other edibles, so they should be planted either alone or with other acid-loving plants. Start off by getting a soil test and aim for a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 for optimal growing conditions.
The most common way to plant strawberries is to use dormant, bare-root plants, sold in bunches in early spring. Separate the bunch into single plants, clip off dead or broken roots, and place the plant into the soil so that the roots are spread out and the crown of the plant is level with the soil surface. Backfill the soil, water it in, and you’re done. For a really fast start, you can also find individually grown, non-dormant container plants, which you simply transplant to your garden.
When choosing a planting location, be aware that some strawberry plants send out lots of runners. The type you have will determine which of three commonly used plant-spacing techniques works best.
The first is called the matted row system. Here, set plants out in rows, 18 to 24 inches between plants and 4 feet between rows. This works well for plants with runners, since they’ll eventually fill in the bare space.
The second way is the hill system, in which plants are spaced in double rows a foot apart in all directions. If you have more than one double row, allow 4 feet of spacing to the next set of rows. This technique emphasizes the mother plant only. Runners are removed to prevent overcrowding. This method is ideally suited for varieties that send out few to no runners.
And then there’s the hybrid way called the spaced plant system. Here, set plants 2 feet apart in rows, with 3 feet between rows. Then allow four runners per plant to fill in the space, and remove the rest.
Whichever method you choose for planting, be sure to mulch the entire bed. A layer of organic mulch is going to help in a number of ways, including keeping fruit in good shape as it ripens.
For container growing, the best choice is a strawberry pot. Strawberry pots come in terra cotta or plastic and have openings on multiple tiers. Place a bare-root plant in each opening.
There are two primary types of strawberry plants: June-bearing and ever-bearing.
June-bearing strawberry plants put out one crop per year, in late spring or early summer. The first crop happens the year after the strawberries have been planted. The standard practice is to pick off any emerging fruit the first year, to allow more energy to build a stronger plant, and then harvest the following year. When the plants do produce fruit, many strawberries will be ready to pick in a short window of time.
Ever-bearing (aka “day-neutral”) strawberry plants produce a bountiful crop the first season they’re planted, starting in early summer, and they’ll also produce a subsequent crop, although lighter, in late summer to early fall.
As with all crops, strawberries offer many varieties. For a day-neutral selection, try Tristar. I like it for its great flavor and disease resistance, plus it grows in most of the country. And one of my favorite June-bearing choices is Earliglo, for all the same reasons as Tristar. However, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Plant some of both types, for a simple way to extend the harvest.
Strawberries should not be fertilized in spring. If you do apply nitrogen to strawberry plants at the time, the fruit may become soft. Instead, fertilizer after harvest, to give the next crop a boost.
In the first year, work fertilizer into the soil between rows or in the strawberry container.
Strawberry plants will have lower yields as they age and will eventually stop producing fruit. So if your plants are not yielding well, the problem may have nothing to do with fertility and everything to do with the age of the plants. You can pull out these plants, amend the soil with compost, and plant the strawberry runners that grow off the parent plants — or buy new plants.
Strawberry Pests & Diseases
Strawberry plants are a target for leaf spot diseases, most of which can be successfully managed by cutting and removing infected foliage in midsummer. Keeping the leaves and fruit dry by not watering overhead helps too.
As for pests: Birds, snails and slugs are your biggest challenges. Bird netting helps with the birds, and hand removal of the other guys is 100% effective. But if you find it hard to keep up with slugs and snails, you can use Sluggo or similar products that use the active ingredient of iron phosphate, a pet-safe, organic control.
When it comes to harvesting, strawberries often look ripe before they really are ripe. If in doubt, give a gentle tug to the fruit. If it doesn’t separate from the plant, wait another day or two.
For those strawberries that you don’t eat right away, hold off on washing until right before they’ll be used. That way, they will stay fresh longer.
What methods do you use to grow strawberries? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
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