Strawberries are considered a perennial fruit, although it is best to grow strawberries as biennials (see “propagating strawberries” below for more information please).
Strawberries are, by far, the most popular garden-grown fruit. They come in so many different varieties, you’re almost certain to find one that will grow well in your climate.
And, there’s always the option of growing strawberries from the wild variety you find near your home. Wild strawberry’s flavor is much sweeter and more concentrated than the commercial varieties. However, the plants produce significantly fewer and smaller fruits much smaller,making it difficult to grow a significant crop of wild strawberries.
Three general types of Cultivated Strawberries:
June-Bearing Strawberries: growing these strawberry varieties will produce 1 crop of fruit each year, early in the summer.
Ever-Bearing Strawberries: growing these strawberry varieties will produce several crops fruit throughout the season, starting mid-summer until frost.
Alpine Strawberries: these are native to Europe and bear small flavorful berries all summer.
Strawberries offer: vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, beta carotene, folate, malic and citric acids, fiber, and a little protein, iron, and calcium.
Strawberries are a well-known laxative, so don’t get too carried away with that delicious bowl of fresh strawberries! Dehydrated strawberry leaves make a tasty and nutritional tea, high in vitamin C and K. It’s reputed to be especially good for adults and children with diarrhea, digestive, intestinal, or urinary tract issues. A strong strawberry leaf tea is supposed to be a useful treatment (gargle) for tightening gums. Strawberry fruit is supposed to help whiten your teeth. And, strawberry fruit (and leaves) are often used in facial lotions to help close pores and tighten skin.
Strawberries are very versatile and can you can grow strawberries throughout the United States and in much of Canada. There are even certain varieties that can be grown in Alaska.
For best success, plant your strawberry patch in a location with full-sun exposure, on a south facing slight hillside (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere). A southern exposure will produce a crop sooner than if the exposure is otherwise. The hillside promotes air-flow around the plants, which will help you avoid fungal diseases in the strawberry garden patch.
Do not plant strawberries in a garden bed that previously had potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplants. If your selected location did have any of these varieties, it is best to wait at least 3 years before growing strawberries there.
Strawberries can grow well in a wide range of soils, as long as the soil has good drainage, is free from weeds, and is rich in organic matter. A dose of bone-meal and aged manure/compost is helpful also for growing strawberries. (Note: Soil that is reasonably rich in organic matter such as compost, is less susceptible to drought and gives your strawberry plant’s roots a much healthier growing environment.)
To grow strawberries, the pH of the soil should be slightly acid: from 5.5 to 6.5. You may want to check your soil’s ph level prior to planting.
It is very important that the soil have good drainage. If the soil is too saturated with water, the strawberry plant roots are easily damaged (which affects the health of the entire plant.) To grow your best crop of healthy strawberries, there should be no standing water on top of the soil after a rain.
It’s also very important that you keep the strawberry bed free of weeds. Strawberries grow well only when there’s no competition from other plants. It’s best to keep a shallow layer of mulch (such as straw) around the plants. This will serve several purposes: it minimizes the weeds, helps the soil retain its moisture, and also keeps the berries cleaner.
One can grow strawberries by planting new plants in the spring. However, the best results come from planting them in the fall. This gives the strawberry plants an early start for an extended growing season in their first year. The first year is important, because it prepares the plant for the harvest year (2nd year). When growing strawberries, the healthier and more vigorous the plant in its first year, the better your crop will be in the harvest year.
For the best start to your strawberry garden, consider requesting “virus-free” plants when you purchase your new plants. The roots of the young plants should be healthy, vigorous, and straw-colored. (Any plants with few roots or with black roots should be discarded.)
Once you’ve brought your strawberry plants home, you’ll want to plant them as soon as possible. While you’re preparing the bed for planting, place the plants temporarily in a shallow trench in a shady spot and keep the roots moist (but not sopping wet). Do not allow the roots to dry out.
You can plant your strawberry plants in hills, or in rows (often called “matted” rows). Which you select depends upon your preference. Growing strawberries in hills seems to produce bigger berries, but fewer berries. Growing strawberries in rows is the most common method.
Row planting: place plants so that runners are spaced around the mother plant approximately 6″ apart. Keep the row width at no more than 18″. Any extra runners should be removed to prevent overcrowding (which reduce your crop yield). Space the rows 3 feet apart.
To plant: dig a hole deep enough so that the strawberry plant’s roots are not crowded, and can extend downward without bunching. Fill in with soil, and lightly firm the soil around the plant. ** Important: The crown of the plant should be even with ground level.
For optimal strawberry growing conditions: keep the strawberry bed free of weeds and do not allow the plants to fruit or flower the first year. Remove all of the blossoms on first year plants as they appear. This is very important. Most beginners ignore this advice, and end up with a less than successful strawberry patch for all their effort. The second year is really the harvest year for strawberries. If you allow the plant to produce fruit in the first year however, it will stunt the plant and you won’t have a good crop in the next year.
How to Grow Strawberries – Propagating Strawberries
You can grow strawberries by seeds, but the easiest way is by using the runners to form new strawberry plants. A “runner” is a stem that shoots out from the “mother” plant. Growing strawberry plants is easy then – a new plant will form where the runner touches the ground. You will want to use some care in selecting the “mother” plant. Select only those that are healthy and that have not been allowed to fruit in the same season as the intended propagation.
Note: destroy any runners that don’t produce a flower truss in the first year.
Once you’ve selected the parent plants, keep an eye on the selected plants and remove any flowers that form. Do not allow flowers or fruiting on the parent plant. Keep the parent plant weeded, fertilized, and well watered.
In mid-summer you should start to see runners forming. Don’t allow more than 4 runners per parent plant. Cut any additional runners off the parent plant. For the remaining (attached) runners, leave them attached to the parent plant, but place the opposite end of the runner in a small (3″) pot of soil, placed in the ground. You may need to weight the runner vine down to keep it in place until the roots form on the new strawberry plant.
The runner vine will try to keep on “running” past the new plant you’re growing, but it is best to allow only one new plant per runner. Cut the runner extending past the new young strawberry plant, leaving about 3″ attached to the new plant. Keep the young strawberry plants growing well by keeping them watered, weeded, and giving them a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer.
Once the new plant is growing and rooting (in about 5 weeks), sever the young plant from the vine to the “mother” plant. You can now pick the pot from the garden soil, and transplant the new strawberry plant in it is new garden bed location. Keep the young plants watered, and give a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer.
Tip for Growing Strawberries: Remove all runners from the new plants in this first season, and remove all flowers as they form. This will give you a good crop of leaves on your first year plants. This is very important, because the buds that grow next year’s flowers (and strawberries) form at the base of the strawberry leaves. The more leaves you have the first year, the more strawberries you’ll grow in your second year.
Once the runners have been removed from the mother plant, you can allow the mother plant to flower and grow strawberries. Do not use the mother plant to propagate again though.
You’ll find that 3rd year plants don’t produce well. It’s better to remove them after the 2nd year, and keep a constant stock of fresh plants each year. If you do this, you will keep growing strawberries successfully year after year.
To grow strawberries, the plants will need 1″ of rain per week. It’s best to use a drip or soaker hose for watering to minimize risk of plant diseases. Strawberry plants have very shallow root systems, so a dry spell will have a huge impact on your plants. With this in mind, it is very important that your strawberry plants get enough water. If not, you’re likely to grow a much smaller crop than you would’ve otherwise had.
Note: Keeping a light layer of mulch around the strawberry plants will also help keep the ground moist.
A good healthy mixture of composted/aged manure gives your strawberry patch the best start. As far as additional fertilizing needs, there’s quite a bit of discussion around what the best time to fertilize your strawberry crop is. Some say fall is better and that you’ll risk a smaller yield if you fertilize in the bearing season. Others say never to fertilize in the fall, as you can risk winter damage. Please check with your local extension office for their recommendation for fertilizing strawberries in your growing area.
Birds, verticillium wilt, red stele, leaf scorch, powdery mildew, spider mites, bud weevils/clippers, gray mold, slugs, snails
Do NOT grow strawberry flowers, fruit or runners on your strawberry plants in the first year. Be sure to remove all blossoms as they appear.
In the second year, pick only strawberries that are fully ripe. The berries are very perishable, so don’t pick more at one time than you can process effectively. Handle strawberries carefully and don’t stack the berries more than a couple of inches high. Strawberries are very easily bruised.
Try to pick your strawberries in the morning, or on an overcast day. Berries picked in the heat of the day don’t keep as well. Also, it is best to place your full baskets in the shade or in a cool location, until you’re ready to take them inside.
Also, as you harvest, be careful not to trample the surrounding strawberry plants.
Note: When harvesting your berries, if you see any injured berries, remove and destroy them. (Why waste your plant’s energy on bad berries? This way, they’ll redirect their growing efforts to the good fruit remaining. Also, if there’s a diseased fruit, you don’t want to risk it contaminating the rest of the strawberry crop.)
After the harvest season is over, prepare the strawberry garden bed for next year by cutting off the foliage, weeding the bed, and fertilizing the bed.
After there have been a couple of hard frosts (but before temperatures drop to below 20 degrees (F)), cover the strawberry bed with 3″ of mulch. Straw and hay make wonderful mulch for strawberries. I’ve also heard of those who use leaves, sawdust or pine needles.
In the spring, you will need to remove most of the mulch, leaving just a thin layer to help keep the weeds at bay. Rake the leftover mulch into the empty spaces around the strawberry plants and in between rows for additional weed protection.