Strawberries are popular fruits for a good reason. They likely remind one of luscious sweet red summer memories, perhaps as an ice cream top. But you can also grow strawberries in your home garden as well. Strawberries are easy to grow, produce runners which form new plants at the end of them, and can grow in any temperate garden, as well as fit into small spaces or fill huge plots in any large garden. You don’t need specialized equipment to grow strawberries, and they can be grown in any container, pot, balcony, backyard, or deck.
Varieties of Strawberries
There are many strawberry varieties to choose from, but it’s best to choose types that have resistance to diseases like Red Stele and Verticillium root rot. Plants planted in too close proximity may not get enough aeration and become prone to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew or mold. You can grow strawberries from seed, but bear in mind that plants usually won’t bear any fruit until a year after planting. Seeds can be prepared with the seed starting techniques explained here.
The varieties of strawberries are classified as June bearing, everbearing, or day neutral. It is not possible to visually tell which type is which, so when you buy your strawberries, do specify which type you want (or go for a mix). So what are the differences between them?
Junebearing varieties tend to be the sweetest and most aromatic. They form flower buds in the fall as the days get shorter. Fruits can be harvested in early to mid-June. This type sends out many runners that can grow into new plants. To encourage growth, prune the flowers and blossoms in the first season. Examples of June bearers are Jewel, Guardian, Kent, Redchief, and Cabot.
Everbearing usually denote two main fruit crops in a year, with one in June and another in late summer or early fall. In between them, there are also other smaller crops. Everbearing plants grow fruits of medium size for about 3 years, after which the fruit production declines and the plants will then have to be replaced. Common everbearing varieties include Ozark Beauty, Ogallala, and Fort Laramie.
Day neutral is similar to the everbearing type, except that they flower and fruit more consistently in summer, and thus are preferred for their continuous crop. Pick the blossoms during the first month after planting to encourage the second round of blossoms to fruit for the autumn crop. Day neutrals do not produce many runners. Well known day neutrals include Tristar, Fern, and Tribute.
To grow strawberries, the optimal soil pH should be slightly acidic. Something in the range of 5.5 to 6.5. The soil should be high in organic matter. To this end, you can improve it with a generous helping of compost, perhaps prepared a year before you start planting the strawberries. Sandy loam is preferable for strawberries.
You may consider raised beds for strawberries, if you are growing them in the yard. Raised beds provide better drainage and strawberries need good drainage.
Water & Sun
Strawberries should get 8 hours of sun a day and at least 1 inch of water a week, depending on your particular growing conditions. You can try a drip irrigation system, as it keeps the leaves and fruit dry, thus reducing the risk of fungal rot. In fact, strawberries are a great advocate of drip irrigation watering. They like things moist but not soaking or flooded, and dislike water on their leaves and fruits, because it encourages fungus to grow. Strawberries can also be grown hydroponically, and flood and drain hydroponics works well for large numbers of plants.
After the strawberry plants have been reasonably established (the leaves should no longer be wilting under the sun), the bed can be kept moist with drip tape or soaker hoses. Due to their shallow roots which can dry out quickly, keep a close eye on them. When the plants are small, watering once a week may be enough. Later in the season, when the plants are larger and weather is warmer, 2 or 3 times per week should be sufficient. A word about using overhead irrigation: Splashing water can sometimes spread fungal spores and that’s why you want to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation.
After any soil amendments and the drip irrigation has been laid down, you can cover the soil with a weed barrier, using any opaque sheeting or landscaping fabric. Make openings through the weed barrier and then plant your strawberry starters (assuming the seeds have already germinated through the seed starting process) through openings. If you are planting from runners, do not cut off the runner till the new plant has its own runners.
The plants can be spaced about 8 to 14 inches apart in single rows. The weed barrier, drip irrigation and adequate spacing will help ensure an abundant crop with minimal damage from pests and diseases. As a general rule, the more berries per season that a plant produces, the less runners it will produce, and vice versa. So make sure to have adequate space for future runners as well, and decide on whether you want more runners or more fruits by trimming as needed.
What other plants grow best in close proximity with strawberries? Generally, strawberries get along with beans, lettuce, and spinach. If you have an herb garden, then borage and strawberries get along well together.
Frost and any temperatures below 0° Celsius can damage strawberry flowers and fruit which are rather delicate at best. Leaves and crowns that have been acclimatized won’t suffer permanent damage though. So how do you protect your plants from the freeze? You may cover the plants with sheets before any expected freeze using a mini PVC hoop tunnel greenhouse. For more on protecting your plants from cold temperatures, refer here.
What about Growing Strawberries Indoors in Containers?
Strawberries can be grown indoors, in containers, due to their small root systems. There are special containers made specifically for strawberries called strawberry pots which are about 2 feet high with holes all over. Remove the runners, remove old or dead leaves, and trim the roots to about 4 -5 inches. Soak the roots for an hour and then plant it so that the crown is level with the soil surface.
There is one issue with growing strawberries indoors. They need to be taken outdoors in Fall and Winter because of needing a chill period to initiate flowering. You can bring them indoors to the windowsill during February though. Water and feed every two weeks until the flowers appear after switching to a liquid feed containing high potash. If the plants are already flowering after you grow them indoors, you will want to remove the flowers for the first 6 weeks after planting. This helps the plants to conserve energy and get established first.
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