Growing Strawberries | Tips For How To Grow Strawberries
Do you remember the strawberries of your childhood, dew-covered and fresh-picked on a bright June morning?
They had a delicious aroma and melt-in-your-mouth sweetness totally unlike any store-bought berries you ever tasted.
And how good they were in a warm shortcake topped with a light mound of real, fresh-whipped cream. Can you recapture all this glory?
You bet you can.
If there is one fruit every homesteader and suburbanite should grow, it is strawberries, for strawberries are:
- The first fruit of the season.
- The quickest to bear of any fruit.
- Easy to grow.
- Expensive in stores.
- Better quality when home grown.
And no matter where you live, there is a variety that will thrive and do well in your region.
Though they do best in the cooler, moist regions, they can be grown in hot, dry climates,especially where windbreaks can be provided and supplemental watering is possible during the critical months of July, August, and September.
Strawberry plants respond for the gardener in direct proportion to the care they receive.
Larger yields of high-quality fruit await those who improve the soil, devote extra attention to cultivation, provide irrigation if needed, and mulch the planting properly.
Strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis in the family Rosaceae) are the first fruit to ripen in the spring, and they are highly nutritious. A single portion of fresh strawberries supplies more than the minimum daily requirement of vitamin C.
There is, in fact, more vitamin C in a cupful of strawberries than in a medium-sized orange or half a medium grapefruit. Fresh, high-flavored, undamaged fruit generally contains more vitamin C. Preserving or freezing may destroy a sixth to a half of the vitamin C content
The Basics Of Growing Strawberries
In the garden, growing strawberries can be grown with relative ease. They grow best in cool, moist climates, but can be grown in warmer climates if suitable varieties are used. Varieties for the regions are listed below.
The varieties offered for sale are constantly changing as further research into this profitable commercial crop takes place. In very cold regions with little or no snow, plant Catskill, Royalty, Senator Dunlop and Totem. In the Northeast and Midwest, Catskill, Guardian, Premier, Sparkle and Sunburst are recommended. They are all self-fertile.
Soil And Site
Strawberries grow best in a well-drained but moisture-retentive soil. To increase drainage, raise the growing area to form 1.2m (4ft) wide beds. The site should be sunny, avoiding areas where there is little flow of air, as this will increase the risk of mildew.
Buy plants from a reputable grower who can guarantee freedom from disease. Most strawberries are planted in early spring, when temperature and moisture conditions are best
Dress the soil with two hand-fuls of bone meal per square meter/yard. Plant 60cm (2ft) apart with 45cm (18in) between the rows.
If you are uncertain about your soil, get a soil test. The pH preference of strawberries is between 5.0 and 6.5.
Or check out the soil tips page for growing strawberries
If you are planting in 1.2m (4ft) wide raised beds, plant the first row 15cm (6in) from the edge of the bed to give three rows 45cm (18in) apart.
Water thoroughly after planting.
It is important to set the crown of the plant (the point where the leaves join the roots) at soil level - if set too high the plant will not establish itself and frost may lift it out of the ground. If set too low the crown will rot.
When growing strawberries they can also be planted through black plastic. This helps to prevent the evaporation of water from the soil, suppresses weed growth and prevents the runners shooting into the soil.
Steps in Planting
- Soil test will have determined whether you should add lime and fertilizer, and how much of either. If soil hasn't been tested, a rule is to add a 12-quart pail of a corrmercial fertilizer such as 5-10-10 per 1,000 square feet.
- Till or rake soil several times in the two weeks prior to planting. Each time you do this you will eliminate many freshly germinated weeds. These are weeds that will never rise to cause trouble in your new strawberry bed.
- You're ready to plant. Trim off most of the old leaves from each plant. I leave one on to make hardling the plants easier.
- Thoroughly soak the plant roots. Now place them in a basket, bucket, or sack, so they will not dry out. When planting, never remove more plants from the basket than you can put into the soil in about 15 minutes.
- Use a trowel, a dibble, or some other tool for making holes. This can be done quickly by inserting blade of trowel into earth, then pressing it back, and tipping it to both sides. Hole will be large enough for spread of roots.
- Set plants at correct depth. The base of the crown should be at the level of the soil surface. Plants set too deep will smother and die; and if they are set too high, they will dry out.
- Spread out roots, then care-firm the soil around the roots. Take care with this step, for the success of the planting depends on it. Leave no air pockets in the soil.
- If soil is dry, pour a pint of water or soluble fertilizer around each plant. This is excellent insurance to make certain the plant roots don't dry out, which would cause the plant to die.
Maintenance Tips For Growing Strawberries
Little fertilizer is necessary when growing strawberries. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil, the plants will make excess leaf growth at the expense of fruit so, after the crop has been picked, sprinkle a handful of rock potash along each meter/ yard run of row.
The fruits will hang on or near the ground, where they can be splashed with mud or damaged by slugs. To protect them, mulch with straw once they start to swell. Tuck the straw right under the plants to raise the fruit off the ground. Take care, however, not to mulch too early.
If the straw is put under the leaves while there is still a danger of frost, it will insulate the flowers from the rising warmth of the soil. This lowers the temperature around the developing fruit and could result in a lighter crop.
Healthy strawberry plants produce new plantlets on stems known as runners. To provide plants for forcing in the greenhouse, pin the plantlets into pots sunk into the soil beside the parent plant. Once they have rooted, they can be separated from the parent plant.
Don't use them to restock your beds; you could spread virus disease. Protection Strawberries are prone to bird damage when ripe. To protect them, cover the ripening fruit with netting. Cover autumnfruiting strawberries with a cloche if there is a danger of a hard frost.
Surround the developing fruits with straw to raise them off the ground. This will provide protection from slug damage and prevent them being splashed with mud.
For some other tips for growing strawberries check out the links at the top of the page
Harvesting Tips For Growing Strawberries
This is the time we have been looking forward to — when we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, have plenty of delicious fresh strawberries to eat, make others into desserts, and freeze or can for future use.
Picking strawberries still is a hand job — even on large plantings. No machine presently available can remove berries from plants at the right degree of ripeness without injuring them. The most natural way to pick strawberries is not the best way. That way is to grasp the berry and pull. This bruises the strawberry, and usually leaves the cap on the plant, opening the center of the fruit to spores of decay organisms. Fingers gradually get dirty and sticky using this method, and the dirt gets on the berries.
Instead, grasp the stem close to the cap, twist, and pull, leaving as short a stem as possible attached to the cap to avoid puncturing other strawberries and exposing them to rot. Don't pile them high in the picking container; this will crush and damage them.
Strawberries should be harvested at the right stage of ripeness. Overripe berries are soft and easily injured in marketing, lose flavor, and don't keep well. Immature berries lack both a full flavor and a fine appearance. Consider how you will use the berries as you pick them. If you must keep the fruit for a few days, pick it when it is pink rather than ripe red.
If berries are to be used or eaten immediately, they should reach full ripeness. Berries remain in this ideal condition for only one to three days, depending on the variety.
Weather conditions usually determine the frequency of picking. Berries ripen fast in warm weather and more slowly in cool weather. You should pick berries at least every four or five days. Ideally the gardener will pick every day, and reap the best flavor and the least loss from spoilage. While picking, the gardener should pick any spoiled berries, taking them from the row so they will not contaminate others.
Pick strawberries early in the day. They are firmer then and easier to handle than when picked in the heat of the day. Rains will not halt the ripening of the fruit, so it may be necessary to pick when the berries are wet. While this is not ideal, it usually will not cause serious difficulties. If picked berries are dirty, chill them for an hour or two, then wash them through one or two cold waters.
Strawberries are easily frozen. Be sure to select varieties that have firm texture, and berries that are well ripened and of good red color. Flavor is very important. Freeze only those berries you would want to eat fresh. Wash in ice water, removing the hulls. Berries may be sliced, crushed, or frozen whole. If you want to sweeten them, use 3/4 cup of sugar to each quart (1 1/2 pounds) of berries, mixing thoroughly. For whole strawberries, mix with sugar, if desired, then flash freeze on a metal sheet. Transfer the berries to freezer containers when solid. For others, pack into containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom. Seal, label, and freeze
Diseases To Avoid When Growing Strawberries
Strawberries are prone to attack by aphids, slugs, botrytis, mildew and virus diseases. They are also affected by red spider mite and birds.
Two insects often found in poorly prepared strawberry beds are the white grub and the strawberry root aphid.
The white grub, larva of the June bug, dines on strawberry roots. Avoid having it become a nuisance by not planting on newly cultivated areas. If those grubs are a problem in your area, you can get rid of them by plowing or rototilling the soil in the fall so that the winter cold will kill them.
Strawberry root aphids are most common when strawberry plantings follow corn, grass, or weeds, so avoid this.
How to grow strawberries that are virus free
These pose the greatest challenge to strawberry growing since they are widely prevalent, and often two or more different viruses may hit the strawberry bed, with effects that range from a deterioration of the plants to killing them.
Killer and latent viruses may affect strawberries. Killer types, such as aster yellows, produce severe symptoms and kill out individual mother plants along with the attached runner plants. But, generally, very few plants are affected and the overall damage does not warrant control measures.
The latent viruses, on the other hand, are frequently responsible for the progressive weakening of a planting stock, bringing about a condition that old-timers called the "running out" of a planting. A latent virus by itself may produce no obvious symptoms, but combinations of two or more may produce yellow leaves, crinkled foliage, or severe stunting of the plants. A single virus may limit the number of runner plants that form, resulting in low yield and small, dull berries. The only practical thing you can do is to replace the planting stock with certified virusfree plants.
Also check out our growing strawberries protection page
Other Ways Of Growing Strawberries
Many ingenious ways have been devised by imaginative people who have little land area but who wish to have the fun and delightful rewards of growing strawberries.
For growing strawberries in a barrel, cut 2-inch holes in the bottom, and staggered around the sides of the barrel, about a foot apart horizontally and 8 inches vertically.
Fill the bottom with 6 inches of gravel, for drainage, then mix up a rich combination of compost and loam. Build up the soil in the barrel in layers, using a tin can with both ends removed to construct a central core of gravel, removing the can as each layer is built up. Set in the plants as each layer reaches the hole depths, placing them inside the barrel, then working their foliage through the holes. When barrel is filled, add a few plants at the top.
Another clever way to make the most of a small area is by using a strawberry ring or pyramid- These rings will accommodate about 50 plants each. They may be purchased or fashioned of aluminum. The largest ring is 6 feet in diameter, and the other two are successively smaller. Fill the first one with soil, place the second in position and fill it, then do the same with the smallest.
Some extra tips for growing strawberries
The Window Box
If you have a sunny location, you may grow strawberries in a window box. Plant everbearing varieties in any window box that receives eight or more hours of sun each day. Keep it well watered, pinch off any runners that appear, and you will get up to 200 berries from each plant. These will need protection during the winter. In an extremely cold climate, the safest method of protection would be to move them into the cellar where they will be cool but the ground will not be frozen firmly. Don't move them in until after several hard frosts.
You can plant berries in flowerpots — 6 inches wide or larger — and hang them from the porch railing, a trellis, or the back fence, using coat hangers bent into a round shape. When the runners appear, plant them in other soil-filled pots. It will be necessary to make certain these are in a sunny spot, for maximum production of berries. In winter, remove the pots, placing them in the basement or garden house. Keep the soil moist during the winter.
Walls and Trellises
Strawberries up a wall? It's possible if you plant the climbing strawberry. This is an everbearer that will grow up to 5 feet tall and may be trained to grow on a fence or trellis. This strawberry plant grows best in cooler climates, with the mother plant bearing the first year and the daughters the second.
The Combination Patch
Another idea worth thinking about is a combination garden patch. Alternate rows of Junebearing strawberries with other favorite spring perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb. Dig the soil deep, incorporating plenty of chopped leaves, grass clippings, or other organic material.
Asparagus and rhubarb roots are available from most nurseries selling strawberries. Plant them according to directions and you soon will be enjoying asparagus souffle and Grandmother's favorite — strawberry-rhubarb pie