A Beginner's Guide to Growing Strawberries
Strawberries are one of the gardener's favorite crops. There is no comparing a fresh-picked, homegrown strawberry to most supermarket fare. Strawberries are also one of the fruits which require a small amount of space but can produce abundantly.
Like other berries, most strawberries are perennials, which means their roots stay from year to year and expand with each passing year, although any particular plant will begin to decline after about two or three years. On the other hand, some types will not even produce fruit in the first year they are planted. So keep this in mind when choosing which strawberries you will plant.
When to Plant Strawberries
Spring is the perfect time to plant strawberries, but not the only time. Depending on what type of strawberries you plant, they may produce their first summer or they may need an overwintering period in order to start producing their second summer.
If you want fruit in your first season, make sure you buy “day-neutral” or “everbearer” types of strawberries, although be patient as it may take up to 12 weeks from the date of planting for fruit to form. Alternatively, you can buy mature potted plants which will be ready to produce.
June bearing plants will produce their second summer. While they don't provide instant gratification, June bearers are reputed to produce the most flavorful strawberries, so the wait may be worth it.
Soil and Sun
Strawberries need full sun and prefer a sandy loam soil with ample organic matter and a pH of 6.0-6.5, but they can really grow in many types of soil as long as there is good drainage. You should prepare your soil by adding ample compost, well-rotted manure, or garden soil to the area you plan to use, or if using pots, fill with fresh potting soil. Soil should also be kept free of weeds.
Buying a Potted Strawberry Plant
If you're buying a mature strawberry plant in a pot, it's probably ready to produce strawberries. All it needs from you is watering and a place in the sun. This is the most convenient and practical way to grow strawberries for most people.
Planting Strawberries in the Garden
When planting in the garden, space plants about 18-24 inches apart in single rows. Dig holes deep enough so that the crown (base) of each plant will be at surface level, not below it, which would encourage disease. Fill the soil around the roots and press firmly, being careful not to leave any roots exposed. Water in the transplants.
When and How to Water Strawberry Plants
Water strawberry plants regularly, and more often in hot, dry weather. Water at the base of the plants, not on their leaves or fruits, and also don't let water splash on the leaves or fruit, as this can encourage disease. Also, try to water in the morning so the surface water can evaporate by evening.
Tools to water strawberries without splashing the leaves and fruit:
- drip lines
- direct-point watering (put hose on low pressure and water at base of plants)
- drip tape
If you don't have time or patience to use those things, apply mulch (e.g. straw, thus the name "strawberries"), which you can then water however you want without splashing.
It's a very good idea to keep your strawberries up off the soil. If you're growing in the ground, that means placing plastic, straw, or some other kind of mulch under your plants. This will protect them from weeds, will retain moisture in the soil, and prevent disease. It is also recommended to place netting over your plants so birds won't eat your delicious crop.
Before we talk about choosing varieties, the easiest thing to do is go to your local nursery or garden center, see what they're carrying, and ask them which variety will work best for what you want.
If you'd like to know the nitty gritty, there are three categories of strawberries: the June bearer, the everbearer, and the “day-neutral” type. Day neutrals and everbearers can be grown as annuals. They prefer long summer days and will produce fruit the first season they are planted, while Junebearers will only start producing the second summer after planting. They generally hibernate during the winter and so are good for cold regions.
All types are ideally planted in spring. For young June bearers and everbearers, the experts suggest pinching off any flowers that form for three to four months after planting. For day neutrals, pinch off flowers for the first six weeks. Day-neutrals will then produce strawberries for the rest of summer and fall, everbearers will give you a fall harvest, and June bearers will come out with their first crop the next June. By preventing flower growth, you let your plants grow their runners, ensuring a strong plant and good production.
Some varieties worth mentioning: Earliglow is an early ripening June bearer. It is very sweet and disease-resistant. Ozark Beauty is a heavy-producing everbearer. Its berries are good for eating fresh, canning and freezing, and it's resistant to leaf rot. Seascape is a heavy-producing day-neutral. It is disease-resistant, with firm, appealing fruit. It will produce a heavy crop in late spring and a lesser crop until fall.
Which to Choose?
There are many varieties within each of the three strawberry types to consider. Some are known for their flavor (Alpine Yellow tastes like pineapple), some for disease resistance, and some for abundance.
If you plan to freeze or can most of your berries, June bearers make sense since they produce most of their fruit all at once. If you prefer fresh strawberries and an extended strawberry growing season, everbearers and day-neutrals are the way to go.
Consult an experienced local landscaper to recommend the best type of strawberries and other crops to grow in your garden.
Updated January 2, 2018.