The first time I grew strawberries, I just dove right in and set out a bunch of plants. I kept them mulched, weeded, fertilized and watered.
I started to get worried around the middle of summer when I didn’t see any blossoms.
After researching a bit, like I should have done before planting, I learned that strawberries are perennials that don’t fruit until their second year.
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to grow your first crop of these delightful little fruits in your garden.
Why should you grow strawberries?
Have you seen the prices of strawberries in the supermarket lately?
Pound for pound, they’re one of the most expensive fruits in the produce department. They cost so much that many people pass them up, despite how delicious and nutritious they are.
And by the time you get them home, they have been sitting in the back of trucks, in coolers and on shelves for who knows how long. You end up with only a few days to enjoy them before they get mushy and have to be thrown away.
But what about flavor? Sure, they’re good. But have you ever had a strawberry fresh out of a garden? There is no comparison. Fresh is better.
You never really know what you’re getting from the market, either. They may say organic, but how do you know? There has been some controversy about the “organic” label in recent years.
There may be traces of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in organic fruits and vegetables. The best way to getorganic and non-GMO food is to grow it yourself.
When you pick your own strawberries from your garden, they are going to be fresh and delicious. They are going to last way longer than the ones you get from the store. You’ll know how they were grown. And you’re going to save money.
If you know how to preserve your strawberries, you’ll enjoy that wonderful sweet flavor well past the growing season.
Which Strawberry Variety Should You Grow?
Take a look at a gardening catalog. Do you see all those different kinds of strawberry plants? It can be confusing. What kind is best for you?
This is a crucial decision. If you pick the wrong kind, you may be disappointed with a small yield and mediocre flavor. Your plants may not even survive.
But if you get the right kind, you’ll be rewarded with a bountiful crop of juicy little red gems.
Be sure and take some time to make sure you get the type and variety that will thrive in your garden and give you the berries that you want at the time you want them.
Pick The Right Type Of Strawberry
The type of strawberry you grow will determine your yield and the timing of your harvest. There are three types: June-bearing, everbearing and day-neutral.
June bearers fruit for only a week or two, usually in the middle of June.
They typically produce the largest fruits.
Since they give you a huge amount of berries over a short period of time, they may be your best bet if you plan to make a bunch of jam or preserve them another way.
As the name implies, everbearers give fruit throughout the growing season. You’ll get a nice big crop usually at the beginning of summer.
There’ll be a smaller flush at the end of your variety’s particular growing season. Berries will continue to pop up in between the two main crops.
This type produces berries more or less consistently throughout the growing season.
Pick The Right Variety
There is a dizzying variety of cultivars out there, and there are more introduced every year. Variety determines what time of year the plants will give fruit, the flavor, size, and other factors.
Consider the following when deciding which variety is best for you:
- Your local climate
- The size of the berries you want
You can get information about berry size and flavor from the catalog or nursery where you are going to buy your plants or seeds.
Your climate is an important consideration as well. Your local agricultural extension office is a good source for this info. If there is a gardening club in your area, that would be even better.
As you research varieties that will do well in your area, pay attention to their fruiting seasons. You can select several varieties with staggered blooming seasons and be able to harvest fresh berries from late spring to early fall.
Where Should You Grow Strawberries?
Picking the right spot in your yard is crucial to your success. Think about what the plants need.
Also remember that, in all but the hottest climates, they are perennials. You’ll get the best yields in the second and subsequent years. Plant your strawberries where you’ll want them year after year.
They will grow in almost any type of soil. I grew my first plants in heavy clay. But my plants were small, and I didn’t get many berries.
For the best results, plant your strawberries in sandy loam soil. You may have to make some amendments. Work as much organic material into the soil as you can if you have clay soil as I do.
Composted cow or horse manure is the best material to loosen your soil. You can also use peat. Whatever you use, make sure it is natural.
Also, think about sunlight. Strawberries can make do with as little as six hours of direct sunlight per day, but more is better. What they really want is full sun all day long.
Making sure your strawberry plants have enough sunlight will ensure that you have the healthiest plants and the biggest, juiciest and most flavorful berries.
You also want to make sure that the spot where you grow your strawberry plants is free of the diseases that can kill them.
The most common disease is Verticillium fungus. Once plants are affected by it, the fungus can work its way into the soil. It can live there for up to five years, just waiting for more of its favorite plants to attack.
The best way to keep Verticillium from getting your strawberries is to avoid planting your plants where this fungus may live. Try not to plant strawberries where other plants that Verticillium likes to attack have lived in the past few years.
Some of Verticillium’s favorite victims include:
What Are The Planting Systems For Strawberries?
Once you’ve decided the type and variety of strawberries you want to grow and have a good spot picked out, you need to figure out how you’re actually going to grow them.
There are two main ways that most people grow them. You’ve got the matted row system and the hill system. Each system has its own advantages and drawbacks.
Let’s look at each system individually so you can decide which one suits you and your garden the best.
The Matted Row System
This system allows the strawberry plants to spread freely by the runners they send out. You’ll get the best yields with this method, but your berries will not be the really high-quality ones that you can get from the hill system.
To start a matted grow, you plant your strawberries about 24″ from each other in rows about 48″ apart.
Let the runners go where they will, as long as they stay in their row. There’ll always be runners that want to go the wrong way. No problem, just guide them by gently moving them before they take root in the soil.
Each year, your rows will get thicker with green plants.
The Hill System
With this method, you pull all runners off of the plants as soon as you notice them. This allows you to control the growth of each row. The result is plants that have put all of their energy into their own growth, instead of reproduction.
Make your hill about eight inches high and 24 inches across at the bottom. Then extend the hill as long as you want your row. You can have as many of these long hills as you want, and each one can be as long as you want it to be. Just be sure to leave about four feet between each hill.
Space your plants about a foot apart.
There is an offshoot of the hill system that is worth mentioning. The hedgerow technique allows each plant to have two runners.
These runners are allowed to fill in the spaces between plants with new ones. You just have to be sure that there is a foot of space between each main plant and at least four inches of space between each smaller plant that grows from a runner.
How To Prepare Your Garden For Strawberries
Use a tiller to churn up the soil to a depth of at least six inches. Eight inches would be better. This is a great time to add amendments to your soil.
If you have clay soil, add some sand or organic material, like the manure we talked about earlier. If your soil is already nice and loamy, there’s really no need to add anything.
You also want to make sure your pH is in the correct range. You can get soil testing kits online and at home improvement stores, but you’d be better off having it tested by a pro. Contact your local ag extension office for a testing center near you.
Although they will grow in soil with a pH as high as seven, strawberries prefer slightly acidic soil. 5.8 to 6.2 is your goal. That’s where you’ll get the healthiest and most vigorous plants.
It is highly unlikely that you’ll need to raise your pH. But if you need to lower it, lime works best. And the best way to work lime into your soil is with a tiller. So check your pH before cultivating. That way you can save a step if you need to work on your soil pH.
How To Plant Strawberries
You have two choices right off the bat: young plants or seed. Save yourself some aggravation and get bare-root plants, at least at first. Growing strawberries from seed is a little difficult and unnecessary.
To plant a strawberry plant, dig a hole about four inches deep and just as wide. At the bottom of the hole, mound up some soil so the top of the mound comes up almost to ground level.
Now place the plant in the hole with the roots spread out evenly down the sides of the mound. This will give the roots a good start in their new home and ensure quick and solid growth.
Gently but firmly pack soil into the hole. The crown of the strawberry plant should be even with the ground.
Mulch the plants after they are all planted to prevent weeds and keep the soil moist. You can use just about any kind of mulch, but I prefer pine needles. They keep the soil nice and acidic, just like the strawberries want.
You need to water the plants within a few hours of planting them. This is a stressful time for them. They’ll be thirsty.
You can use plain water, but this is a great time to give them a nice feeding. Use liquid fertilizer at about half the recommended strength. If you’re going organic, use compost tea.
How To Water Strawberries
Strawberries need moist soil, but they don’t like to have wet feet. That makes frequent watering best.
They should get about an inch of water per week during the vegetative stage. Invest in a good rain meter. If it rains less than an inch in a week, go ahead and make the rest of the inch up with your garden hose.
You can and should give them more water when they are forming berries. This berry-forming period goes from the first time you notice a bloom and ends when you pick the last berry of the season.
But how much do they need during this time? It depends on who you ask, but they need about two inches of water per week if you ask me. That will ensure big juicy strawberries.
Please be careful not to overwater.
Too much water can cause the roots or crown to rot. That can kill your plants. Even if your plants survive frequent overwatering, they will produce less fruit.
Stick to the guidelines of one inch per week during the vegetative stage and two per week during bloom and fruiting.
How To Fertilize And Weed Strawberry Plants
You should work one or two pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer into your soil when you first cultivate it. This will give the young plants all the nutrients they need to get off to a good start.
Fertilize again, using the same fertilizer about a month to six weeks after planting them. Nitrogen is very important at this stage of their lives. A lack of this crucial nutrient will stunt their growth.
The third round of fertilizer should be applied in late summer. This will give them the food they need as they finish up their first year of life. Don’t skip this feeding. You don’t want to fertilize the plants in the spring of their second or the following years. Spring feedings make for soft, mushy berries later in the year.
So how do you fertilize in the second and subsequent years, when the plants are producing fruit?
June bearers should be fed after they are done fruiting. Day-neutral and everbearing types can be fed after the first harvest.
You can also feed all types with blood meal and bone meal once per month. Just go easy with the blood meal. You don’t want to give your strawberries too much nitrogen. Follow the directions on the package carefully, and read up on the subject if you do go this route.
Weeding strawberry plants is pretty straightforward. It’s best to pull all weeds as soon as you notice them. You’ve put a lot of work into preparing your plot for your berry plants, and there’s no sense in letting weeds take advantage of your efforts.
Please avoid chemical herbicides unless weeds get totally out of control. You don’t want a bunch of chemical residue getting down into the soil.
How To Manage Pests And Diseases
If you want to enjoy your strawberries, you have to protect them from harm.
How To Protect Strawberries From Animals
Herbivorous and omnivorous animals love sweet strawberries as much as you do. They’ll devour your berries before they even have a chance to ripen.
Birds can be frustrated by bird netting. It just lays on top of the strawberry plants. They’ll move on to unprotected plants in your area to keep from getting tangled up in the net.
Other pests, like rabbits, deer, and raccoons, can be a bit more tricky to deal with. Take a look at the following tips. You may have to try more than one before you find something that works best for you, and you may have to keep switching things up as the pests catch on to your tricks.
- Hang bars of soap in your garden – Animals consider this a human scent and will avoid it.
- Hang pie tins and other reflective objects in your patch – Nocturnal animals’ eyes are sensitive to light and the reflections will scare them.
- Make a spray out of a quart of water and a tablespoon of blood meal – Most animals hate blood meal.
- Plant hot peppers around the perimeter of your garden – This really irritates sensitive noses of some animals.
- Mint, basil, garlic, chives, and onions work just like hot peppers.
How To Protect Your Strawberries From Insects
Insects pose different problems. Most of them are unaffected by shiny objects and weird smells.
Most insects, including pesky aphids, can be controlled with a mixture of four tablespoons of liquid dish soap in one gallon of water. Just spray your plants with it. You’ll have to respray after rain. Soap dissolves the protective oil coating on insects’ exoskeleton.
Diatomaceous earth consists of microscopic material that has sharp edges. When bugs walk or slither across it, they get all cut up and die by dehydration. Just sprinkle the white powder between your garden rows and around the base of your strawberry plants.
You’ll probably have to deal with slugs. Diatomaceous earth works pretty well for them, but so does beer. Dig a hole shallow enough to bury an old bowl so it is flush with the ground. Fill it up with cheap beer. The slugs will drown themselves. Make these beer traps all around the perimeter of your strawberry patch.
How To Protect Strawberries From Disease
Almost any disease you find in your strawberry garden is going to be caused by a mold or fungus, like the Verticillium we talked about earlier. Get a good anti-fungal powder and apply as directed. That’s really all you can do.
Whitish, blueish or rusty colored powder on the leaves usually indicates a mold or fungus problem. Your local ag extension office can be a big help in determining what type of infection you have.
Take a good picture of the problem areas or leaves and show them. Chances are they’ll know exactly what kind of problem you’re looking at. They can also recommend the best type of treatment.
How To Harvest And Store Strawberries
How To Pick Strawberries
Strawberries aren’t tomatoes. They won’t ripen on your counter. They’ll just rot. Strawberries have to be allowed to ripen on the plant.
Picking them is simple. Just hole a ripe red berry and use a very sharp pair of scissors to cut the stem. Please don’t pick them by pulling or twisting them. You’ll damage your plant. Sharp scissors or pruners are mandatory.
Pick berries about every three days or so. This will ensure that you don’t have any rot on the plant.
How To Store And Preserve Your Strawberries
I think strawberries are best as soon as you pick them, right from the plant to your mouth! But I like to keep my precious berries around for as long as possible, and you will too.
Strawberries will rot pretty quickly if left on the counter. Stick them in the vegetable drawer of your fridge for up to a week. But don’t wash them before refrigerating. They’ll get mushy.
Strawberries can be frozen whole. They’ll last for a couple of months this way. Any berry will get soft and develop an off taste after being frozen for three months or longer.
You can also dry strawberries. I use a tabletop food dehydrator. After they are nice and dry, I put them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer. They last almost indefinitely this way. Dried berries are great as-is for a quick snack.
Have you ever had strawberry jam or jelly? There are a ton of recipes online for delicious strawberry preserves.
Strawberry wine is delicately nuanced, with many layers of flavor and aroma. I’ve never made it myself, but I have enjoyed some that a friend made. I’d definitely recommend it if you like wine.
You now have a basic knowledge about how to grow strawberries from beginning to end.
When I planted my first crop of strawberries, I was expecting to be enjoying some later that summer. I didn’t know that it takes a year to get the first berries. But I’m so glad I kept at it. There’s nothing quite like your own fresh strawberries that you grew in your own garden.
Any journey begins with a first step. Go outside and pick a spot for your strawberry patch right now.