If you’ve never grown your own strawberries, prepare your tastebuds for an adventure – because here’s our planting to harvest guide to strawberries!
Types of Strawberries
When it comes to taste, homegrown strawberries trounce their store-bought counterparts, which are usually picked before they’re really ready. This matters, because fully ripened strawberries have a higher sugar content and a richer aroma, meaning only one thing: more flavor!
Most strawberries fall into two categories: summer-fruiting or June-bearing varieties, which produce their fruits in one go over a few short weeks in early summer, and everbearing or perpetual varieties, which give two smaller harvests – the first in early summer then a second towards the end of summer. And then there are the day-neutral strawberries, which crop on and off throughout the growing season. If you love strawberries, be sure to plant a range of varieties so you can pick fruits over a longer period.
Where to Grow Strawberries
The very best-tasting fruits grow in full sunshine. Pick a sunny, sheltered site in fertile, free-draining soil that’s ideally slightly acidic. You can easily improve soil by digging in lots of organic matter before planting – compost or well-rotted manure is ideal. A general-purpose organic fertiliser will give your new plants an extra boost. Avoid frost-prone spots if you can, so that early flowering varieties aren’t damaged, and don’t plant them where tomatoes, potatoes or chrysanthemums recently grew, because these plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt, a disease that is easily passed on to strawberries.
Strawberries may also be grown in containers, towers and even hanging baskets, making them a fantastically flexible fruit!
How to Plant Strawberries
Pots or plug packs of strawberries are available throughout the growing season, while bare-root plants are usually sold later in the season and again from early spring.
Set the plants about 20 inches (50cm) apart in each direction, using a string line as a guide to give neat, straight rows. The crown of the plant, where the leaves emerge, should sit at soil level. This is easiest with potted strawberries, which can be planted at the same depth they were at in their nursery pots.
For bare-root strawberries, start by soaking the roots in water for an hour or so to rehydrate them. Remove them from the water then cut back any overly long, straggly roots. Don’t worry, this won’t harm the plant! Now dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots. Hold the crown up at the right level with one hand then fill the soil back in around the roots with the other before firming into place. Once you’re done, thoroughly water around plants to further settle them in.
Strawberries can be planted into containers much closer together but will need dividing up and replanting after one season to keep them healthy. Use an multi-purpose potting soil and make sure the container has drainage holes in the bottom.
Water plants regularly as they establish and during dry spells. Try to avoid wetting the leaves when you water, to reduce the risk of disease. Container-grown strawberries are likely to need watering more often as the potting soil can quickly dry out in warm weather.
Strawberries put a lot of effort into swelling their fruits, so top up soil fertility before plants resume growth each spring by tickling in a general-purpose organic fertiliser to replace lost nutrients. Container strawberries will need feeding as often as once a week from the moment they come into flower. Use a liquid fertiliser that’s high in potassium, such as a store-bought tomato feed or homemade comfrey feed, for this.
Tuck a mulch of straw in and around plants from early summer, before the fruits develop. This will help to keep them blemish free, while at the same time slowing weed growth and loss of soil moisture.
In the first year, cut off any runners – long, thin shoots like these – to concentrate the plants’ efforts into fruit production. In future years you can use these to propagate new plants. Check out our video on propagating new strawberry plants from runners to find out how to do this.
Birds love strawberries, just like us, and can make short work of ripening crops if they’re feeling peckish. The best way to keep your harvest safe is to cover plants with a netting that excludes birds but which still allows pollinating insects to pass through. The other threat is a cold snap at the start of the season, when early flowers run the risk of frost damage. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and deploy row covers when frosts threaten while plants are flowering. Remember to remove these covers during the day to give pollinators access.
Slugs can also rasp away at the fruits. Use slug traps filled with beer to attract them away from your plants, or grow them out of harm’s way in containers.
Pick your strawberries when they are fully ripe all over. If you can, pick them on a sunny afternoon, when their flavour will be more concentrated. You can store them in the refrigerator, but this comes at the cost of taste, so leave them at a cool room temperature if possible – after all, it won’t be long before they’re snaffled up!
At the end of season, give plants a tidy up. Remove any straw or strawberry mats, weed through the bed then cut back the old foliage to leave just the fresh new growth right at the center of the plant. Plants should do you proud for at about three seasons, after which it’s time to replace them, planting in fresh soil elsewhere in the garden.
I hope you’ll try growing some strawberries in your own garden – it’s really worth it! Please leave a comment below to tell me what varieties you recommend.