It’s no coincidence that many people looking to grow their own fruit start with strawberries. They’re relatively easy to grow and are delicious eaten on their own or with ice cream and/or cream. Oh, and let’s not forget strawberry shortcake! In this article we’ll go over how to grow strawberries in your garden bed, in containers or indoors.
All About Strawberries
Strawberries are one of the group of fruits and vegetables called the “dirty dozen” meaning they are high in residual chemicals and/or pesticides. You can buy organic strawberries, of course, but what better reason to grow your own than to have your very own “certified clean” food whenever you want it.
Strawberries are the only fruit with its seeds on the outside. Not only that, the strawberry is not technically a berry. In fact, it’s a member of the rose family and as such the plant has a pleasant rose-like scent.
Strawberry plants are perennials and will provide crops for three to five years, although you’ll probably see the harvest diminish after the third year.
The plants will die back in the winter and start growing again each spring as the soil warms.
Three Main Strawberry Types
There are three main types (cultivars) of strawberry plants, the difference being the time of year they produce fruit and how much fruit each type produces. Your zone (the weather conditions in your area) could determine which one you grow. Within each type there are many varieties.
These strawberry plants produce their buds in the fall and then produce heavy crops from early to mid-summer. In some warmer parts of the world, despite the neme, the plant will bear fruit earlier than June. This strawberry type produces runners during the long days and short summer nights. Some June-bearing strawberry varieties are Earliglow, Honeoye, Surecrop, Allstar, Jewel, and Lateglow.
Everbearing strawberry plants bear fruit throughout summer. The first big crop arrives in spring, and the summer sees a light crop before a big final crop in late summer or early fall. Everbearers produce few runners. Some varieties are Ft. Laramie, Ogallala, and Ozark Beauty.
Day-neutral varieties of strawberry will bear fruit consistently throughout the season, but not in high quantities. They’re not sensitive to the length of the days, but they will stop bearing fruit once the first frost hits. Day-neutral varieties perform best during the cooler periods of the growing season and are not very productive during hot weather. Some varieties are Tribute and Tristar.
This short video gives some excellent tips for growing strawberries:
Planting in the Ground
You can grow strawberries from seed, but it’s a bit of a gamble as you can never be sure what your crop will look like. Much easier and what most gardeners do is to buy a few strawberry plants, also called runners, from their local nursery. This usually also ensures that the plants are the right type for that particular weather zone.
Strawberries need between 6 and 10 hours of direct sunlight a day, so planting them in a sunny location is essential. Since they also need plenty of drainage, raised garden beds work very well for this reason.
You’ll need a rich, slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Work in several inches of organic matter like peat moss or aged compost before planting to ensure good drainage.
Before planting, soak your strawberry plants in water for 10 minutes to give them a boost.
If you choose to plant the type that produces runners, give them several feet in each direction to grow and sprawl. Plant so the roots are not coiled and so the crown is just above soil level.
Adding mulch such as shredded leaves, straw or compost will keep the soil moist and also keep any of the fruits from resting on wet soil.
A word of warning: do not place your strawberry plants near growing eggplants, peppers, potatoes or tomatoes as they attract bugs which could be detrimental to your strawberries.
Strawberries need a lot of regular watering, especially when the fruits are developing. Since the roots don’t grow very deep, it’s important to keep the top of the soil moist. As mentioned earlier, mulching helps with this. When watering, try to avoid getting water on the leaves so they don’t become susceptible to fungal diseases. You can water less often in the winter months.
Another factor to keep in mind since strawberry plants have relatively shallow root systems is that weeds will crowd them out and deprive them of essential water and nutrients. So, it’s even more important than with most plants to pull up any weeds as soon as they appear.
Some pests that attack strawberry plants are: tarnished plant bugs, leaf and root aphids, cyclamen mites, slugs and strawberry bud weevils. There are some very effective natural pesticides you can use to keep these under control, especially if you want to keep your strawberries organic.
Sometimes birds can be a problem. If this is the case, use netting or floating row covers to protect the plants.
Strawberries need plenty of nitrogen. Fertilize with a potash fertilizer every week or two as soon as the first flowers appear.
How to Grow Strawberries in Containers
Strawberries grow well in containers and it’s a great way for beginners to start. The containers keep the plants off the ground which keeps them away from slugs, mice and other pests and weeds are generally a non-issue. In addition, the berries won’t be sitting on wet soil which could cause them to rot.
You’ll need a large container with good drainage holes. If you’re planning on growing more than a few plants, a multi-tier strawberry planter pot is perfect and takes up very little space.
Use a premium quality multipurpose, organic potting mix. If using one large pot, place a few plants around the edges of the pot so that, when the fruits develop, they will dangle over the top.
As with all container plants, they’ll need watering more frequently than in-ground plants, possibly several times a day in hot weather. Conversely, if the temperature drops, they may need to be moved to a warmer spot or provided with insulation since the containers won’t retain the heat as ground soil would.
Strawberries will also grow well in hanging baskets and window boxes. The smaller alpine varieties are the best choice for this type of container.
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How to Grow Strawberries Indoors
You can successfully grow strawberries indoors, but if you don’t have a sunny south-facing window, you’ll need to place your strawberry plants under grow lights to give them the amount of “sunlight” they need. They will grow best in temperatures of 55-70° F.
One benefit of growing plants indoors is that you don’t have to worry about pests and weeds. Also, letting the soil go dry will not be such an issue, but you still need to water frequently to keep the soil moist.
One additional task, without the help of bees and insects, you’ll need to hand pollinate your plants when the flowers develop. Do this regularly as new flowers appear.
The time to harvest your strawberries comes about 4 to 6 weeks after they first blossom. You should only harvest the red, fully ripe strawberries. When harvesting, cut the strawberries off at the stem and take care not to damage the plant. Harvesting the fruits frequently encourages your plants to produce more flowers and fruits.
If you follow our guide on how to grow strawberries, you should be rewarded with many years of crops from these delicious plants. Just make sure to keep the soil slightly acid, to water well and often, and to keep those pesky weeds and pests at bay.