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.
Here is the first of this year’s strawberry harvest here at Seven Oaks Farm:
Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: it took me six years to get a good crop of strawberries from the garden!
I call that…practice makes perfect.
I made several mistakes growing strawberries, and I hope that what I have learned from my mistakes will help you avoid them.
How to Grow Strawberries
Before planting strawberries, make sure that you have the right conditions available to grow them.
Full sunlight, defined as six or more hours of sunshine each day. If you don’t have a patch of earth that receives that much sunlight, you can grow strawberries in containers, hanging baskets, or special strawberry pots or jars. These can be placed in a bright area that receives adequate light.
They like rich, well-drained soil. Have your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension Office, and amend it according to the test results. The soil pH for strawberries should be around 6.0 – 6.5, just slightly acidic. The more organic matter such as compost or manure you can add into the soil, the better.
Strawberries like a lot 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.
Types of Strawberries for the Home Garden
There are actually three 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 stories.
- 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.
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. At first this looks 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.
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 over night and eat them! I solved this problem quite simply with a bird net from Tractor Supply. 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. In New York, on Long Island where I grew up and gardened, slugs were an awful nuisance on strawberries. They’d leave telltale slimy trails and much berries overnight, leaving mushy holes that made the berries inedible. 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 diotomaceous earth. It’s sold in a shaker can and looks like a powder. It is actually powdered rock, with tiny fossilized diotoms (sea creatures) inside. The powdered rock and shells cuts 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 a n 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. It doesn’t matter what kind of beer you use, so you can get the cheapo stuff and use that, but then of course you have to dispose of the beer, the container or bottle, and the slugs afterwards. I’ll stick to diotamaceous earth.
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.
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.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to growing strawberries. I plan to make strawberry jam this week, my first time making it, and I am so excited! We haven’t had enough berries yet to make jam. I have made blackberry jam from wild blackberries growing on my property, but never strawberry. I’ve dreamed about this day for a long time. Wish me luck and if it comes out well I’ll share the details and recipe with you!