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How to Grow Strawberries: The Complete Home Gardener’s Guide

Strawberries

If you love strawberries, then you have to learn how to grow strawberries. By far the best ones you’ll ever taste will come from your own backyard.

Rich in vitamin C, fresh strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) are a home garden favorite. Learning to grow them can be both rewarding, and incredibly satisfying.

With this complete guide on how to grow strawberries, you’ll learn everything there is to this garden favorite, including how to plant, grow, and harvest strawberries. Also learn about the three different varieties of strawberries to help you choose the right one!

 

 

Botanical Name: Fragaria ananassa

Common Name: Strawberry, garden strawberry

Plant Type: Fruiting perennial

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Type: Loamy, rich, well-drained soil

Soil pH: Acidic (6.0 to 6.5)

Bloom Time: Late spring, early summer

Flower Color: White

Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9 (USDA)

Native Area: Europe

 

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Strawberries

  • Choose from alpine, everbearing, or June-bearing varieties depending on your climate
  • Prepare the site carefully since plants will be in the same area for years
  • Amend soil with compost and organic matter; be vigilant with weed removal
  • Plant carefully so runners can fill without crowding
  • Strawberries will be ready to pick in 4-6 weeks
  • Harvest frequently to prevent loss from birds
  • Common diseases and pests are slugs, aphids, spider mites, June beetles, blossom blight, powdery mildew and Verticillium wilt.

Strawberry Plant Care

If at all possible, keep strawberries away from frost-prone areas to prevent harm to early flowering varieties.

Also avoid planting them close to tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, or chrysanthemum plants because these plants are vulnerable to verticillium wilt, which may readily spread to strawberries.

Strawberries are an incredibly versatile fruit because they can be grown in towers, pots, and even hanging baskets!

Light

Strawberries need at least six hours of sunlight every day, but they grow well even if they receive less than six hours of sunlight per day. If grown under less light, the yield will be lower.

Soil

To produce the most strawberries, garden strawberry plants need soil that’s rich and loose with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Plant the strawberry plants so that their roots are covered in soil, but their crowns are exposed to fresh air and sunlight. If buried too deeply, the plant will die.

Water

Water your strawberry plant with 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Watering during the growing season is especially important when fruits are forming, from early bloom until the end of harvest.

Temperature and Humidity

Garden strawberries thrive best at temperatures between 60 degrees and 80°F. Although the plants can withstand temperatures as low as 22°F, they will not grow well if exposed to freezing conditions for extended periods of time.

Humidity encourages the development and spread of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, therefore it’s important to provide adequate ventilation for the plants.

Fertilizer

When starting out, use compost-rich, organic soils and apply a balanced fertilizer at planting time, at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet. You should fertilize again after the renovation or after the second harvest if you want to get good results from it.

Don’t over-fertilise, which leads to excessive foliage growth and poor flowering. Also, don’t fertilise strawberries late in the season if you live in a cold climate, as you want to avoid new growth that would be harmed by frost.

If you choose to grow organic strawberries, blood meal can be used to improve nitrogen and bone meal can be used to increase phosphorus.

Mulching

Once the strawberry plants have been planted in the ground, it is essential to create the optimal environment for their growth.

Mulching is a tried-and-tested technique for ensuring that strawberries grow nicely.

Mulch the strawberry bed with compost, straw, compost, leaves, or pine needles after you’ve planted your strawberry plants. Pine needles are a good choice because, as they break down, they make the soil a little bit more acidic.

Mulching also reduces weed growth, lowers soil temperature, and keeps fruit cleaner by keeping strawberries away from mud. Most strawberry varieties produce more when their roots are in cooler soil.

When the danger of frost has passed in early spring, remove the mulch.

Types of Strawberries

Strawberries come in three varieties:

Day-neutrals varieties or alpine strawberries, often used as ornamentals, which produce small numbers of berries through much of the growing season. They’re also known as fraises des bois, wild strawberry, or European strawberry.

Everbearing variety doesn’t continually bear fruit, as their name might imply. Everbearing strawberries grow flowers when the days are long, resulting in typically two harvests, one in spring and another in early fall.

June-bearing varieties are ones that produce one large crop in and around its namesake month. A small, well-established patch of June-bearers strawberries can provide bountiful spring harvests over a three- to five-year period. To maximise future yields, it is beneficial to remove all of these plants’ flowers the first year.

Choose the right strawberry variety suited to your climate that are resistant to plant diseases prevalent in your region.

Despite having a longer season of harvest than June-bearers, everbearing and day-neutral strawberries typically produce smaller fruits. Only a few runners are normally produced by day-neutral varieties.

Choose from a large selection of heirloom garden seeds available at Planet Natural. Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is free!

How to Plant and Grow Strawberries

As soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, make plans to plant. Check the frost dates in your area.

To maintain great berry quality each season, grow fresh plants every year. The runners (daughter plants) that strawberry plants produce will take root and develop into new strawberry plants.

Purchase plants that are disease-resistant from a reputable nursery and of a type that is popular in your area.

Site Preparation

Site preparation is particularly important when planting a strawberry patch as the plants will remain in the same spot for years.

Choose a sunny, weed-free location– south-facing if possible — and away from trees and other shade-producing plants. Use an established garden space for your patch rather than tearing up sod where grubs and other root-attacking pests may reside.

Do NOT put your patch in an area where tomatoes, eggplants, or other members of the nightshade family have been recently planted. These plants, as well as other berries, can harbor Verticillium, Fusarium wilt, and other fungi-caused diseases that persist in soil for up to four years.

Strawberries need constant moisture but don’t like standing water. They prefer sandy loam that is well-drained but with good water retention.

Poor-draining, clay soils can be improved with organic peat moss or coconut coir and other organic materials.

Prepare the bed in the fall before planting by working lots of manure, grass clippings, shredded leaves, straw, and other organic material into the soil and allowing it to decompose over winter.

Plants do best with a pH reading between 6.0 and 6.5 but will tolerate soil pH as high as 7.0 (neutral). Test your soil in the fall before planting and add dolomite lime if the soil is too acidic and pH needs raising. If the soil is too alkaline, use elemental sulfur to raise the level.

A week or so before setting out plants, apply a balanced fertilizer to the patch.

Common Methods of Planting Strawberries

Plant strawberries in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. The two most common methods of planting strawberries are the matted-row system and the hill system.

The matted row system, commonly used with runner-producing June-bearing varieties, spaces mother plants up to 24 inches apart in rows up to three feet apart.

After the mother plants are established, runners are allowed to set in the space between plants (remove runners and blossoms during the first season to encourage rooting and plant growth).

These runners can be pinned at 12 inches from the mother plant with additional runners pruned as they appear (space-matting system), or can be allowed to set where they will without pruning. The space-matting system makes for the strongest plant growth and most productive harvests.

The hill method, most often used for everbearing and day-neutral berries, is best suited for raised beds. Plants are set 12 inches apart in staggered double or triple rows. Runners are pinched and not allowed to set. June-bearing varieties can also be grown this way but will have fewer productive years.

Choose cultivars that are certified pest and disease free. Trim any runners and blossoms as well as any damaged roots or those over six inches long.

Plants should be set with the crown half in and half out of the soil. The roots extending from the bottom of the crown should be well beneath the soil line. The leaf stems emerging from the top of the crown should be well above the soil.

Make the hole deep enough to accommodate the roots without twisting or bending. Transplant in the late afternoon to avoid heat stress and drying out. Water each plant as soon as it’s set in the earth.

To encourage growth, trim all blossoms and runners from June-bearing plants through the first season. This will result in stronger harvests come the second year.

Pick blossoms from neutral and everbearing strawberries during the first month after planting in the garden, allowing the second show of blossoms to fruit for a fall crop.

How to Grow Strawberries from Seed

Neutral and everbearing strawberries are sometimes offered as seed. Allow the seed a dormancy period by placing it in a bag with peat or coir dust and placing in the freezer for at least two weeks.

Four to six weeks before the last frost, take them out of the freezer and allow to sit overnight. Start the seeds in potting trays filled with moist, slightly acidic soil, in holes one-quarter inch deep and six inches apart. Strawberry seeds are tiny.

Tweezers can help in the planting and two or three seeds should be placed in each hole. Seeds can take two to four weeks to germinate, depending on soil temperature (60 – 70 degrees is ideal). Keep soil moist during the germination process.

Thin seedlings as they emerge to provide six inches between plants. When they’ve developed three true leaves, transplant seedlings carefully to three-inch pots using a gardening knife or narrow trowel to completely extract roots and the soil around them.

Provide your transplanted seedling with eight hours a day of light and keep moist until they are ready to be set in the garden.

Tip: Strawberries do NOT compete well with weeds, which can easily take over a patch. Start with weed-free soil and remove any weeds that do surface as soon as they appear.

How to Harvest Strawberries

Ripe berries are ready to harvest four to six weeks after blossoming. Pick June-bearing strawberries every other day to avoid lost or rotting fruit.

Never pull them from the plant. Instead, snip them carefully near the crown of the berry. Leave crowns attached unless the berries are to be eaten immediately.

How to Store Strawberries

Berries, depending on ripeness, can be kept for a day or two without refrigeration (best) and three to four days in the refrigerator.

Berries also freeze well and can be used frozen for breakfast smoothies or allowed to thaw for use in sauces, jams, and baking.

Seed Saving Instructions for Strawberry Plants

Most June-bearing strawberries have been hybridized. Any seed saved from them will not breed true, but seeds from various types of non-hybridized, neutral, or alpine berries can be saved.

Allow fruits to fully ripen on the vine before picking then gently mash them in a bowl with water. Let the mash settle and skim away any non-viable seeds that float to the top of the surface. Rinse repeatedly and strain the pulp, leaving only the seeds. Allow to dry thoroughly.

You may also try letting the picked fruit dry completely and then rub out the seeds from the berry’s skin with your thumb and forefinger.

Whole, well-ripened alpine berries can also be planted immediately in pots after picking, allowing the seeds to germinate. Start these plants indoors under lights after thinning until it’s time to transplant them into the garden.

Common Insect & Disease Problems When Growing Strawberries

Strawberries, though relatively pest free, can be damaged by slugs, aphids, spider mites, and other pests.

Keep a close eye on your plants. Look for holes in leaves that indicate the presence of slugs, then inspect plants a night with a flashlight and handpick any snails and slugs you find.

Use an OMRI-listed slug bait or traps to reduce slug numbers.

Copper barriers can be used to keep slugs away from plants. Use insecticidal soap to control mites and aphids whose presence is indicated by yellow, curling, and stippled leaves.

Wilted plants can indicate the presence of white grubs (the larvae of the June beetle), root weevil, wireworms, or other grubs. To control them, apply beneficial nematodes to soil after removing the wilted plants.

Use row covers or netting to protect the berries from marauding birds.

Preventive measures, including the planting of disease-resistant varieties and facilitating good soil drainage, are the best way to control strawberry disease. Do not thin or work among plants when they are wet.

Blossom blight or botrytis fruit rot shows up in discolored blossoms, wilted fruiting stems, and dark, wet spots on fruit. It can be controlled with sulfur or copper sprays if caught early. Otherwise, plants should be carefully removed and destroyed to avoid spreading the fungus.

Plants showing powdery mildew should be removed and destroyed as soon as it is spotted. Take care to wash and disinfect your hands and tools after dealing with infected plants to prevent its spread.

Verticillium wilt, seen in wilted leaves, dark runners and stalks, and inhibited growth can be treated with repeated applications of sulfur fungicides. If the disease continues to spread after treatment, remove and destroy the plants.

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