How to Grow Strawberries
Three types of strawberries are readily available to the home gardener:
June Bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop in late spring. You’ll get more berries per season from June bearing strawberries, and the entire crop will ripen over a three week period.
Ever Bearing strawberries produce one crop in spring and another in fall.
Day Neutral plants are capable of producing fruit throughout most of the growing season.
Site Selection and Preparation
Strawberries need full sun to produce the best crop, but you can get a harvestable crop with as little as 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Increasing the amount of sunlight that your strawberries receive will result in more fruit and better quality berries.
Strawberries will not tolerate drought or standing water. Be sure that the site you select is well-drained. Add organic material if the soil does not retain moisture well. Beds should be placed beyond the root zone of large trees so that the tree will not compete with the strawberries for moisture.
Choose a location that will be easy to water during dry spells.
The site selected should be free from weeds, grubs and soil-borne diseases. Areas where sod has grown should be tilled and cultivated the year before planting to eliminate grass that will compete with the strawberries. Perennial weeds also compete with the plants and cause a marked reduction in production.
- Strawberries are susceptible to Verticillium Wilt, and should not be planted where tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes have grown in the past three years since these vegetables often carry the disease. As far as diseases go, this is the most prevalent one among strawberry plants. This fungal disease will not only prevent fruit production, but it will also kill the plant. There is no way to control it once your plants show signs of infection. The only remedy is to pull the plants out and start over in a new area.
Setting the Plants
When planting, be sure the crown is above soil level and the topmost roots are 1/4 inch beneath soil level Buried crowns rot / Exposed roots dry out. Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and keep weed growth down.
Strawberries do best in drained fairly rich soil, so be sure to add compost or other organic matter when preparing the strawberry patch.
There as four basic systems for growing strawberries
- Hill System
- Matted Row
- Ground Cover
- Raised Beds
The Hill system
The Hill system is used for day neutral or ever bearing cultivars and works well in raised beds. Rows should be aprox. 8-10 inches high and 23-26 inches wide. (Starter plants are planted only 12 inches apart), Staggered double rows are preferable. Leave an isle between the rows about 2 feet wide. The plant’s energy is put toward producing berries rather than producing an abundance of plants as in the matted row system. Runners are removed and berries are harvested the first season. The hill system works well in warm climates where strawberries can be planted in the fall. The plants can be treated as annuals, replacing them every fall for best results.
If not treating them as annuals, keep in mind that the Plants productivity wanes over time, they should be replaced every 1-3 years.
The matted row system
The matted row system is the least time consuming as far as maintenance is concerned.
You’ll need an area approx. 8-10 feet wide and 30 feet long to accommodate 30 plants. This system works best with June bearing strawberries.
In the spring, plant the Starter (or Mother) plants 2 feet apart in rows 3-4 feet apart and allow them to produce and set runner plants unobstructed. The first year all the plant’s energy is devoted to producing and developing strong plants ,all flowers must be picked off, and fruit is not harvested until the second season.
Keep rows to a width of approximately 18 inches. You may have to cut back runners that grow between the rows.
Strawberries as a groundcover
Space the starter plants 1 to 2 feet apart. Weed well and after the first season maintenance should be minimal. Strawberries grown as a groundcover will not produce as much fruit. In all cases, the soil should be well tilled and fertilized a week before planting.
Some gardeners find that raised beds are easier to maintain and promote more vigorous plant growth. Walking in a garden causes soil compaction, which can cause problems with drainage and oxygen availability to the roots. It’s also more difficult to weed when soil is compacted.
With a raised bed, you can plant, weed and harvest without ever walking on the soil. You can also avoid drainage problems by planting in raised beds. The soil also warms up faster in the spring than in a traditional garden. The growing season can also be started earlier.
Basic Care of Strawberries
- Firm the surrounding soil and water thoroughly.
- Prune damaged roots
- Trim excessively long roots to approx. 5 inches
- Regularly hoe between rows and individual plants.
Remove runners and old leaves.
- Most strawberries produce offsets at the end of runners. If you want more plants, just let them grow. If you have enough strawberry plants, pinching off the runners will give you larger plants with small yields of big berries.
- Remove the flower stalks of June-bearing strawberry plants as they appear throughout the first growing season. More production can be expected if the plants are allowed to attain large size before fruiting. Remove the blossoms of day-neutral types of plants as they appear until about the middle of June in the first year of planting only. Then allow flowers to set fruit for the duration of the season.
Watering / Irrigation
June-bearing strawberries that have been renovated after this year’s harvest should be watered weekly during dry weather. Watering aids the recovery of the renovated planting and helps ensure optimal production next season. (The flower buds on June- bearing strawberries develop in late summer and fall. These flower buds will bloom the following spring.) If the strawberry planting is not properly watered, dry weather in late summer and fall could drastically reduce flower bud formation and next year’s crop.
Ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberries must be watered during dry periods to maintain good fruit production.
Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering. This helps to promote good root development, but not excessively so as to avoid rot.
Fertilizer recommendations for Strawberries
The recommendations below are generalized and should be adjusted to the fertility, nutrient holding ability of your soil, and your observations of the plant growth. An application of as they are attempting to get established is recommended.
- June bearing
The soil should have been fertilized before planting as recommended, if not, apply 1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row two weeks after planting. Repeat in late August
1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row at renovation (after harvest) and again in late August
- Ever bearing
2 weeks after planting apply 1/3 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row if soil was not fertilized before planting. Repeat twice in the growing season.
Fertilize with 1/3 to 1/2 cup 13-13-13 per 25 feet of row three times per year. In containers, it may be easier to use a weekly soluble fertilizer or a slow release fertilizer according to label directions.
1. DECIDE WHERE TO GROW YOUR STRAWBERRIES
Get them some sun on the balcony, rooftop, patio or doorstep. And even if you live in an apartment, condo, townhouse, or small home, you can grow berries in a container on your balcony, rooftop, patio, or even doorstep. If your horizontal space is limited, consider growing strawberries in a hanging basket or stacked planter, which will allow you to take advantage of vertical growing space as the strawberry plants tumble out over the sides. By home-growing your own berries, you will also be helping the environment, since commercially grown strawberries use wasteful amounts of water, chemical fertilizers, and some of the worst pesticides imaginable, not to mention the environmental cost of shipping them for hundreds or thousands of miles.
A sunny spot outside your home is the best place to grow strawberries, though you can get a partial crop with less than a half day of direct sunlight.
2. CHOOSE A CONTAINER FOR THEM
Give your plants enough room to grow. Whether you choose a container made of clay, plastic, wood, or other material, make sure it has a soil depth of at least 12-14 inches to give the plants’ root systems space to grow. How many plants you can fit in will depend upon the width of the container, since you should space plants about 10-12 inches apart to allow them to spread horizontally.
3. FILL THE CONTAINER WITH SOIL THAT MAKES STRAWBERRIES HAPPY
Strawberries like room! Strawberries like deep, loamy soil that drains well. This means that it should contain plenty of organic matter (such as compost, shredded bark or peat moss) as well as some sand or grit. Most potting soil mixes sold at nurseries will be sufficient, and if you have access to compost, sprinkle an inch or so on top. Be sure the container has drainage holes in the bottom.
Before planting, buy a small bag of organic fertilizer from your nursery, mix it into your soil, and water this down. You can ask your nursery to recommend the right fertilizer for your soil type and region, but in general, strawberries like plenty of nitrogen plus balanced amounts of the other major nutrients. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is not excessive, especially since organic fertilizers have a slower release time.
4. CARE FOR YOUR PLANTS AND ENJOY
For optimum production, keep your strawberry plants well watered throughout the growing season. Plants should continue to be productive for at least 2-3 years, but will need to be replaced thereafter. To renovate June-bearing plants for next year, trim off their old leaves, making sure not to damage the center stalk (crown) of the plant. Ever-bearers do not need this trimming, but all plants should be given some top-dressed fertilizer again after fruiting. I wish you the best of success in growing your own berries!