Everything you need to know to grow strawberries in a home garden including choosing the best types of strawberry plants, recommended growing conditions, and how to get lots of delicious berries.
While the varieties available in supermarkets (that travel great distances) are selected for their toughness, the strawberries you can grow at home are quite fragile, not road-worthy, yet breathtakingly scrumptious.
It’s much like comparing a standard grocery store tomato purchased in the winter to a sun-warmed, homegrown one, picked fresh from the vine. They shouldn’t even go by the same name! And it’s hard to believe they are even related.
This will help you get started with your own homegrown strawberry obsession.
Finding Strawberry Plants
Before we get started, it’s important to know that with any plant the best practices for successful growing depend on your growing zone, climate, conditions, and the care you provide. For specific strawberry plant recommendations, I suggest consulting with a local garden nursery, horticultural society, or garden club in your area.
Strawberry plants are prone to some diseases, so ensure the ones you purchase are guaranteed to be disease-free.
This post will give you some general information and tips for growing successful strawberry crops.
Related: Need to ID some berries in your garden? This should help.
I’ve been growing strawberries in zones 5 and 6 for approximately 20 years. I received my education in strawberries in a very funny manner: the first plants I ever bought were labelled incorrectly and it took a number of years to sort this out since I was a novice gardener and what the plants were actually doing and the information on the plant tags did not match up at all. Womp womp.
It didn’t really matter though: the volume and quality of fruit was excellent and I managed to keep those plants going for many years by propagating the ‘runners’ (more on this below).
One important thing to know is: the plants have a limited lifespan, generally a few years. After that, then should be pulled out and new plants put in their place.
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Getting Started with Strawberry Growing
Unless you happen to have superb growing conditions, I would rate growing strawberries as a fairly high maintenance job. I know a lot of other gardeners consider them easy, but, for best results, and to keep the plants regenerating year after year, it does take some attention, know-how, and good soil.
Let’s assume, to give yourself the best possible start, you are going to source plants locally and get a few varieties known to do well in your growing zone, and you will do what is needed to provide healthy soil.
As with any food growing, be certain your soil and containers are “food safe”. I’ve lived in a few Victorian era homes where, back in the day, garbage including toxins were simply buried in the yard, and I would never consider growing food directly in soil with that history. Be sure you are making safe choices.
The 3 Basic Types of Strawberries
1. Classic strawberries
Classic strawberries create large amounts of fruit in a single harvest each year, generally in June.
2. Perpetual or Ever-bearing strawberries
Perpetual strawberries provide two crops each year: one in June and the other in late summer. They are not as prolific as the classic strawberries, but fine nonetheless.
3. Alpine strawberries
Alpine strawberries grow like ground cover and produce teeny tiny strawberries from June until the fall. My lawn is covered in them and I can’t say I’m really impressed with the fruit—and neither are the birds and chipmunks because they don’t seem to eat them. That said, some people really love these tiny berries.
There’s also a 4th type:Day neutral strawberries, which apparently supply continuous fruit from June onward, unless temperatures are wickedly hot. I have not ever grown this type so I have no experience to report on, but I sure like the idea.It’s fine to plant several varieties. Just be sure to keep similar ones together and labelled so you know when to expect the fruit and what care is needed.
Related: How to Grow and Transplant Raspberries.
Where to Plant Strawberries
- Strawberries enjoy a sunny location, sheltered from strong winds (otherwise the pollinators get blown away).
- Use fertile, well-drained soil. I plant mine in well-rotted (composted) manure.
There are some diseases and viruses that bother strawberries.
As a precaution, if you have the space, avoid planting your strawberry plants near:
- Members of the nightshade family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.
Also, do not add strawberries to soil that has recently housed these plants in case remnants of diseases they can share are present.
Strawberry Growing Tips
Most strawberry plants produce fruit for 3 years. Some go longer.
If you want your plants to grow perennially (year after year), they have their best chance if planted in the ground or in a raised bed.
- Follow the directions on the plant tag to ensure you plant the strawberries properly (the root crowns like to be at an exact depth) and they need room to grow. I keep mine about 14 to 18 inches apart.
If you just want the plants for a single season, you can plant them in any container, window box, flower bag, or hanging basket that provides adequate drainage.
- When planting in smaller containers, the strawberries will be ok with some crowding since it’s just for one season.
Related: Make Your Own DIY Strawberry Arbor.
- The actual berries are formed from the flowers. While the flowers are forming, make sure your strawberry plants do not receive too much heat or the flowers will wilt. A temperature of 16C/61F or lower is best. Once the fruit has formed, more heat is fine so long as the plants never dry out.
- Strawberries enjoy that sweet spot where they are never too damp or too dry and a drip irrigation system is ideal if you have one.
- A helpful tip is to place your finger tip in the soil, about an inch deep. If it feels slightly moist, do not water.
- Weeds and grasses are not kind to strawberries: they crowd them out, stealing vital nutrients and water.
- Plant your strawberries in a weed-free zone, and be vigilant about keeping the weeds out.
- Again, opinions vary. I plant my strawberries in rich soil, amended with well-rotted manure so I never find they need any additional fertilizers.
- If your soil is not so fertile, you may need to amend it with an slow-release, organic fertilizer, safe for food crops.
- Straw is an ideal mulch for strawberries. You can place it around the plants to suppress the weeds, and, when the berries have formed, place it underneath them to provide a safe resting place until they are ready for picking.
Zone 5 or Colder
- In colder climates, strawberry plants do best if covered in straw mulch during the winter months to prevent a deep freeze.
- A cold season is actually needed to ensure fruiting in the future.
In my garden, the number one strawberry thieves are squirrels and chipmunks. The birds come a close second.
So how can you protect the berries?
If you understand the growth process, you can take action to protect the fruit at the right time.
- The actual fruits form when the flowers have been pollinated. While strawberries are self-pollinating, they do get assistance from insects and gentle winds that help things along. Because of this, you don’t want to cover the plants with netting (which keeps birds out) or shield them with a screen (like this squirrel screen I use), until pollination has occurred and the fruit is forming.
- One big hint that pollination has taken place is: the flowers immediately start to wilt even though the soil is not dry.
- Once the fruit is forming, you can use screens to keep the big critters out. Or accept that some fruit will be stolen by these furry creatures with good taste.
How long does it take until I can pick them?
- In general, strawberries are ready to harvest in about 60 days. This means, if you are planting classic strawberries (the ones that fruit in June), you would want them established in the ground by mid-April or earlier, or better yet, plant them in the fall.
First Year Pruning?
- Strawberry plants are generally viable for 3 years (I’ve had some last as long as 10 years). Some gardeners recommend removing all the flowers in the first year to let the roots strengthen (this way the plant puts its resources into that growth instead of producing fruit). I don’t do this. I find, with such a short-lived perennial, I’d rather have small fruit the first year, than none at all, and things seem to level out in years 2 and 3 anyways.
How do you know when strawberries are ready for picking?
- The number one sign is, the chipmunks will be stealing them! They seem to like to wait for that extra-perfect sweetness.
- The visible signs of ready-to-pick strawberries are completely red berries with no green sections.
- If you want to take extra-fine care of your plants while harvesting the berries, clip the stems with clean scissors instead of yanking the berries from the plant.
The very best picking tip is: when the berries are perfectly red and ready, pick them at the warmest time of day. The berries will taste extra sweet and you’ll notice an incredibly beautiful fragrance—which is actually my number one signal for knowing when to harvest—you’ll smell that sweet, indescribable scent as you walk through the garden.
Growing More Plants from Plants
- You can grow more strawberries from seeds (which is fairly slow unless they are Alpine strawberries) or from runners.
- Runners are shoots that the mother plant sends out, and they look like smaller versions of the main plant. If you’re familiar with spider plants, it’s the same process.
- Set a small flower pot with garden soil under the runner and pin it down (I use giant bobby pins) so the base is touching the soil. Be sure to keep the pot watered and, after about 6 weeks, it will have rooted and you can clip it away from the mother plant. This is how you can have continuous new strawberry plants at no additional cost.
Happy growing. And eating!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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