One of the expectant joys of summer is a juicy, bright red strawberry that tastes like it was kissed by the sun. Farmed strawberries are typically grown with a lot of chemicals, which makes growing your own all the more appealing. Learning how to grow strawberries in your own garden is relatively simple and comes with delicious rewards for your efforts.
Selecting a Site
As with most berry fruit, strawberries need ample sunshine to produce the iconic, plump berries that we all aspire to grow. Your spot will need a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. If you tend to get scorching hot sun in the afternoon, some dappled shade will protect the berries from cooking.
Preparing the Ground
If you have the space, strawberries can be planted directly into the ground. They prefer well-drained, sandy loam soil that is rich in organic matter. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil; a pH ranging between 5.5-6.5 is ideal. Make sure that the site is cleared of grass and weeds to keep them from smothering the plant and to keep Verticillium wilt at bay.
Verticillium wilt is a very common soil borne fungus that strawberries are particularly susceptible to. Do not plant strawberries in an area where tomato, pepper, potato, eggplant, melon, okra, mint, bush or bramble fruits, stone fruits, chrysanthemum or roses have grown for the past five years.
Growing Strawberries in Pots
Choosing an appropriate pot will get your strawberries off to a great start. Hanging baskets are a good option if you lack space on the ground; more importantly, they are at just the right height to grab a snack on your way past. Strawberry pots, commonly found in nurseries, are another option. They are unique in their urn-shaped design and staggered pockets. The top of the pot can hold multiple plants while the pockets along the sides are great for the strawberry’s runners to take root. However, if you do not want runners to take root, you can just as easily stick a strawberry plant in each hole.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with planter choices. Old metal troughs, clay pots or barrels also make good places for strawberries to grow. Whatever container or pot you choose, make sure that it has good drainage to avoid the plant rotting.
A helpful tip to consider when getting a strawberry pot ready for planting is the simple installation of a watering tube. Take an old wrapping paper tube and punch staggered holes along its length. Place the tube in the pot, but not directly over the drainage hole, and continue to fill the pot with soil planting the strawberries along the way. When it is time to water, you can pour water down the pipe, in each pocket and along the top of the pot to ensure adequate water reaches all plants.
Choosing the Plants
There are four different types of strawberry plants to consider for planting in your garden and many varieties exist within each type. Common types include June bearing or short-day bearing,* ever-bearing or day neutral and alpine. The terms represent the conditions required for flower initiation. For example, short-day types initiate flowers during periods of short days like from autumn to spring. Each type produces at different times throughout the year with slight differences in the fruit’s size and growth patterns. Your local nursery can advise you on the best-suited type and varieties for your area.
Dig a hole the size of the root ball and place the plant in the soil with the crown of the plant slightly above soil level. Pack the soil around the roots and water in generously.
Surround your plants with mulch. Mulch reduces competing weeds, holds moisture in the soil and keeps the berries off the ground to prevent them from rotting. Weed-free straw is light and provides good air circulation. Casuarina leaves or pine needles are also good mulch for healthy strawberries.
Strawberries require consistent watering to ensure prolonged production. It is best to water in the morning rather than in the evening to prevent disease. The soil should not be allowed to dry out but rather remain moist without being wet. This is why well-drained soil is so important.
Strawberry plants require additional nutrients to keep berry production at optimal levels throughout the summer. Apply diluted seaweed fertilizer every 2-3 weeks. Do not over-fertilize – this will lead to excessive vegetation growth with fewer berries.
Things to Watch For and Companion Plants
Strawberries are relatively easy to care for but do have a few odds against them. Make sure to keep netting over your plants to protect them from birds. Snails and slugs can be problematic – keep watch and sprinkle salt around the perimeter if you suspect they might be invading your patch.
Verticillium wilt is a hindrance to strawberry patches. Unfortunately, there is no remedy that can rid the fungus from your plants so all of the plants must be pulled and discarded. Jackie French recommends interplanting strawberries with chamomile, chives or garlic (cutting the last two regularly), or hedging and mulching with horsetail.
The first ripe berries will be ready approximately 30 days after flowering. Look for bright, red fruit. When picking, you can leave the stems on, which will allow them to keep a little longer or you can remove the stems if you plan to eat them right away.
Growing strawberries is a simple endeavour that can produce luscious fruit for up to six years, but production levels begin to taper after about three years. Simple maintenance and care ensures healthy plants and soil to keep your strawberry patch thriving. Grown directly in the ground or in pots, strawberries bring delight to every garden and remind us of the beauty of summer.
*Editor’s note: The name ‘June bearing’ equated with ‘short day’ will seem odd if you realise that it is an American term, and in the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of the year is in June (if it were an Australian term it would make much more sense!). The explanation for this is that it was discovered that June bearing strawberries (which are known for bearing around the beginning of June, and for having a very heavy crop of large strawberries, but only once per year), could also bear fruit when the days were shorter. So, in warmer climates, like California and Florida, these same ‘June bearing’ strawberries are actually bearing during the winter months. Hence, ‘short day’.