Learning how to grow strawberries isn’t especially difficult. Like growing most plants, growing strawberries requires the right plants in the right location in the garden, regular care and feeding, and patience.
Grow Great Strawberries!
Before planting strawberries, make sure that you have the right conditions available to grow them.
How to Grow Strawberries
If you are new to growing strawberries, the first thing to know is what strawberries need to thrive.
- Light: Plant strawberries in full sunlight. Full sunlight is defined as six or more hours of sunshine each day.
- Soil: Strawberries need rich, well-drained soil. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5. If you don’t have a home pH meter, you can take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension office and, for a minimal fee, have your soil professionally tested. Such tests may seem unnecessary but the results tell you exactly what to add to your soil to improve it. In the long run, this saves money, because you will only add the amendments and fertilizer that you actually need.
- Fertilizer: Look for a fertilizer with the number in the middle (phosphorous, for blooms and fruit) slightly higher than the other numbers. Espoma Organic Berry Tone (4-3-4) is a great fertilizer for strawberries.
- Water: Strawberries need plenty of water. In the spring, they usually receive plenty of natural rainfall. If the garden looks dry, or you haven’t had rain in a few days, water them well from the garden hose.
- Mulch: It’s a good idea to mulch your strawberry plants in the fall, after the leaves have died back, to prevent cold damage to the plants’ crowns. I use pine straw, which consists of needles dropped from the pine trees on my property. It’s free and it works well. You can also use straw. Bales are available at your local garden center.
- Bird netting: Although optional, I need to keep the crows from eating my strawberries. Crows love berries, as do all types of wildlife. A net is a humane way to keep the birds off of the berries.
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Types of Strawberries for the Home Garden
There are several types of strawberries sold for the home garden. Each produces tasty berries, but some produce more frequently, and others produce larger berries just once a year. It’s up to you to pick the variety that grows best in your region, and that meets your family’s needs and likes.
- June-bearing strawberry plants bear one crop of large berries. Usually, that’s in June, although depending on the weather and where you live, it might be a little earlier. This is the type you see most often in grocery stores.
- Ever-bearing plants produce a good crop of small to medium-sized berries in late May and through June, take a little break during the summer, and then produce a smaller crop in the fall. That’s what I have in my garden.
- Day-neutral plants are like ever-bearing plants except that they don’t take much of a break during the summer. As long as they get plenty of moisture and nutrients, they keep producing strawberries. Before you get all excited about this, note that the berries tend to be small. But if you don’t mind small berries, they may be for you.
Should You Buy Strawberry Plants or Roots?
Strawberries are sold as plants or as roots to be planted in early spring. Bagged roots should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. These are what is usually shipped through the mail if you order plants by mail, and the roots are cheaper than the plants.
For gardeners new to growing strawberries, I’d start with plants available at your local nursery and garden center. Check the stick in the pot to see what type of strawberry they are; usually, the plastic nursery tags will state “Ever Bearing” or “June Bearing” and then you know what you’re buying. You can buy a six-pack to start with or plant more.
Strawberries should be planted about 18 to 24 inches apart. This may look strange because there’s all this space between the plants, but here’s the neat thing about strawberries; over time, they set out long stems called runners, and at the end of the runner is a new plant! It’s called a daughter plant, and it roots by itself in the soil, increasing the number of plants in your garden.
By planting the original strawberry “mother” plants far enough apart that they can easily send out “daughter” runners, you’re giving them enough space to do what they do naturally….without crowding them.
Plant strawberries at the correct depth. There’s a good picture on the University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension site that shows the correct way to plant strawberries. If you plant them too high up, the crowns (center portion) can rot.
Weed control is very important during the growing season. Pull weeds by hand so that you don’t disturb the roots of the plants. Mulch helps retain moisture and control weeds.
Pests and Problems
The biggest pests on strawberries are birds and slugs, at least in my experience growing them both in Virginia and New York. Here in Virginia, crows were the bane of my existence. Each year, my strawberries would develop, and just before they were ready to be picked, the crows would swoop in overnight and eat them!
I solved this problem quite simply with a bird net. A bird net is a big piece of netting that keeps birds from stealing your fruit but won’t harm them. The net just lays over the top of the strawberry bed, and the birds no longer pick my berries before I can.
Slugs are another matter entirely. To combat slugs, you can use several products found at the garden center. One that I like because it is organic and won’t harm wildlife or pets is diatomaceous earth. It’s sold in a shaker can and looks like a powder. It is actually powdered rock, with tiny fossilized diatoms (sea creatures) inside. The powdered rock and shells cut the squishy slug bodies when they slither over it, but won’t hurt people, pets or wildlife who touch it. Very useful organic product to have around the garden for soft-bodied insects like slugs.
Another natural slug control method if copper tape, also available from your garden center. It looks like a roll of masking tape but it is copper. Roll it out and affix it to the edge of the pot or raised bed around the strawberries, making a perimeter fence on the ground, so to speak. As the slugs wiggle over the copper tape, chemicals in their slug slime react with the copper and give them an electrical shock! Nice, right? If you touch the tape, or your pets or a bird, nothing happens. But watch out slugs!
Salt sprinkled on slugs kills them on sight, but most of the time they hide during the heat of the day and come out to feast and play at night. Beer traps are also useful, but I hate to waste beer, so I don’t bother with them. A beer trap is simply a small puddle of beer in an old pie plate set in the garden, or an almost empty beer bottle tipped on its side with a little bit of beer left at the bottom. As much as I hate slugs, they know a good thing when they see it because they’ll crawl right in there to sip at the beer and then drown themselves. I guess they die happy.
Pick Strawberries Often for More Berries
Pick strawberries when the berry is evenly ripe all around, a nice ruby color. Although supermarket berries are often pale on one side you’ll find that homegrown strawberries taste the best when they pull easily and softly from the plant stem. Refrigerate extras or freeze for use in smoothies and recipes later.
How to Grow Strawberries in the Fall and Winter
When fall arrives, and before the first really hard frost, mulch your strawberry plants with straw or pine needles to keep them from freezing. Put a layer about one inch thick over the top. In the spring, when the ground begins warming up, pull back the mulch. If the plants are greening up, it’s time to rake it all off of them, fertilize or compost, and start the season again.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.