It is no wonder that strawberries are a favorite fruit of the home gardener. They’re simple to grow and, because they’re perennial, they will provide years of harvests from a single planting. Most importantly, there’s nothing that says summer like biting into a juicy, sun-ripened red strawberry. Here are eight simple steps that will have you harvesting your own strawberries in no time:
1. Pick your variety
Strawberry varieties come in three broad categories:
Summer-bearers – also known as “Junebearers” – (Fragaria x ananassa) generally produce the largest strawberries. Plants produce one large crop for about two weeks, once during the summer season. You can find early-, mid-, or late-season varieties. All types usually set fruit for about 10-14 days. After the early-season varieties start blooming, varieties in each of the next stages start in about 5-8-day intervals. Plant some of each to maximize your harvest season.
Everbearers (Fragaria hybrids) produce a spring crop of medium-sized berries followed by smaller crops about every six weeks until fall. This is a good choice for small planting areas since the plants produce fewer runners. Most of the plant’s energy is used in producing berries over a long season rather than trailing.
Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca), closely related to wild strawberries, will set tiny, intensely flavored berries throughout the growing season.
2. Prepare your soil
Choose a place in full sun and till your planting bed to at least six inches and work in two inches of high quality compost. You can plant strawberries in containers as well. Choose a pot that drains well, and fill it with loamy potting soil. It should be at least 12 inches in diameter to hold one or two plants.
3. Plant your strawberries
Strawberry plants are available as bare root bundles or grown in pots. Snip bare-roots to about four inches before planting. If your new plants are potted, just gently remove the plant and soil from the pot. In either case, set the plant in a small hole, deep enough that the crown of the plant is set just above the soil line. The “crown” is the point where the plant stems attach to the roots.
Plant about 12 inches apart. As your new plants grow they will produce “runners”. Runners are long, wandering stems that produce new plants. Allow runners to grow and new plants to root until you have plants every three to four inches apart. After that, snip off the additional runners to keep the bed from getting overcrowded. Baby plants on the snipped runners can be replanted elsewhere to establish new beds.
4. Fertilize, or not
If your soil is good and amended with high quality compost, you may not need to fertilize at all. That said, your strawberries will thank you for applying an organic fertilizer, such as a fish emulsion, every other month.
5. Water well
Strawberries need about an inch of water a week, especially when the fruit is ripening. Plants grown in containers will dry out more quickly and may need water daily during warm weather.
6. Prevent problems
Strawberries are susceptible to a number of fungus-based diseases, particularly verticillium, a soil-borne fungus. Verticillium causes the lower, older leaves of the plant to turn yellow and stunted. As the disease progresses the leaves then wilt, dry up and turn brown. Eventually the central leaves also turn yellow and brown causing the plant to die.
The best way to prevent this fungus is to start with varieties that are known to be resistant to verticillium wilt. Also, don’t plant strawberries in areas where tomato, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, melons, or okra have been grown in the past five years. These plants can harbor the verticillium fungus and leave traces in the soil. Environmental stress can weaken plants and make them more susceptible to disease. Be sure keep plants well-watered and nourished to keep them strong and healthy.
Pests of strawberries include slugs that eat the foliage, and birds and other wild animals that eat the berries. Surrounding plants with a layer of straw will help repel crawling pests and reduce weeds. Covering plants with netting should protect from birds and other wildlife.
7. Practice patience for a year
Your berries will produce buds their first year in the ground. If you pinch these off rather than let them fruit, you’ll allow a strong root system to develop and be rewarded with an abundant harvest in your second and third years.
In mild weather, strawberries will be ready to harvest in about 30 days after blooming (less if it’s hot, more if it’s chilly and overcast). Wait until the berries are red to pick, and then harvest in the cool of the morning, when they are firmer.
Strawberries are so easy to grow. Start with just a few plants and before long you will have delicious berries for eating fresh or using in shortcakes, baking, salads, smoothies, sauces, and frozen treats. Bonus: Strawberries are incredibly nutritious! They’re exceptionally high in vitamin C and loaded with a wide range of other vitamins and minerals.
It’s easy to preserve some of your strawberry harvest to enjoy throughout the year. Click here to learn how.