If the allure of glistening, jewel-like berries lying in a bed of dark green leaves isn’t enough to convince you to grow strawberries, the homegrown taste will. Garden strawberries are soft, fragrant and full of strawberry flavor, and frankly, taste nothing like commercially grown berries. One taste and you’ll be hooked.
Why not grow your own? Strawberry plants are inexpensive to buy and are easy to grow. They take up little room in the garden, and unlike most fruit, produce good yields within the first year or two.
Where can I grow strawberries?
Strawberries can be grown almost anywhere in the United States and there are varieties adapted to each region. They require full sun, meaning they need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day, with 10 hours being ideal. Strawberries can be planted in the ground or in containers or raised beds. The amount of space you need depends on the variety and method of planting you choose. About 35 plants will produce enough strawberries for a family of four.
What type of strawberry plant should I buy?
Strawberries fall into three categories — June-bearing, ever-bearing and day-neutrals.
June-bearers produce a heavy crop of flavorful, high-quality fruit in early summer, making them a great choice for gardeners interested in making jam. June-bearers create a lot of runners and multiply quickly, so they generally need the most space. Plants need to be replaced after about 5 years of age.
Ever-bearing strawberries don’t really live up to their name. They actually produce two crops each year, generally in the late spring and early fall. They produce few runners and are better for containers or small spaces. They usually need to be replaced every 3 years.
Day-neutral berries are the most reliable of the three types, bearing fruit from early summer into fall, as long as the temperature stays under 90 degrees F. The drawbacks are that they produce smaller fruit (generally less than 1 inch). Like ever-bearing varieties, they work well in containers and need to be replaced every 3 years.
Can’t make up your mind? Try growing more than one type. Grow a few June-bearing plants for canning, but grow day-neutrals or ever-bearing for berries in the late summer/early fall as well. Check with your state’s local Cooperative Extension Service for recommended varieties.
For further information on strawberry varieties:
StrawberryPlants.org – Strawberry Varieties
StrawberryPlants.org – Recommended Strawberry Varieties by State
USDA – Find Your Local Cooperative Extension Service
How do I plant strawberries?
Choose a sunny location with good air circulation. Strawberries will grow in almost any soil, although they prefer a sandy, slightly acidic soil. Don’t grow them where tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, roses or eggplants grew recently to reduce the risk of diseases. Lay 2 to 3 inches of compost on the soil and dig it in to a depth of 12 inches. The compost will lighten the soil, improving drainage, and will also add nutrients.
Plant strawberries in early spring when the soil is soft, but dry. Dig holes wide enough to spread the roots out if you are using bare-root plants. Place the plants in the hole so that the crown (the area between the roots and the stem) sits slightly above the soil.
The spacing between plants depends on the strawberry variety and the planting method. June-bearers do best planted in a “matted row” on flat ground with plenty of space between to allow for runners and “daughter” plants to grow. Ever-bearing and day-neutral varieties can be planted in raised beds or containers and can be planted closer together. Planting in containers will diminish the yield per plant, but they make lovely ornamental plants, even if you’re not interested in tons of berries.
For further information on strawberry planting methods:
University of Maine Cooperative Extension – Growing Strawberries
Colorado State University Extension Service – How to Grow Strawberries [Video]
How do I care for strawberries?
Strawberry plants need plenty of nutrients to grow luscious, juicy berries. Fertilize them after planting with a fast-acting, 5-10-5 fertilizer, according to package directions.
Remove all the blossoms for the first six weeks after planting. This practice might seem heartless, but encourages the plants to develop strong roots, allowing for better harvests later. June-bearing strawberries won’t produce a crop until the second year after planting.
Mulch strawberries after planting with a 2 inch layer of weed-free straw, untreated grass clippings or pine needles. Mulches conserve moisture, minimize weed growth and keep the roots cool. In the winter, cover the strawberry plants with the mulch to protect them. Move the mulch back in the spring when new growth emerges, but keep it on hand to protect the plants from late spring frosts, which can destroy the crop.
Water new strawberry plants thoroughly immediately after planting, and keep the soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. Strawberries need at least one inch of water weekly during the summer to produce a good crop. Water plants more during hot, windy weather or if you have sandy soil.
June-bearing plants in matted rows should be mowed with a lawn mower within one week of the last of the harvest. It sounds strange, but this keeps them performing optimally.
Want to learn more about growing strawberries and strawberry care:
StrawberryPlants.org – Mowing Strawberry Plants
National Gardening Association – Care and Harvest of Strawberries
University of California – Strawberry Pest Management Guide
Well, after you’ve planted and cared for your strawberries, all that’s left to do is enjoy the harvest. If you run out of ideas for how to eat them, try Cooking Light’s Favorite Healthy Strawberry Recipes. Enjoy!
Rafael Quinones says
I would like to know when to harvest strawberries and why they are so small
You harvest when they are a medium to dark red. You should hear a “pop” when picking a perfectly ripe straberry, as they disconnect from the syem. When they start turning red, you must check them daily, because they ripen quickly. If they are small, they are probably Ever-Bearing or Day Neutrals. June-BeRing will ptoduce the bigger berries. Don’t expect a huge bounty of berries on any plant fthrst 1-2 seasons. It takes time for the plants to get established. Plucking blossoms off the first season will make the plants stronger, thicker and heartier.
Tavia Hollenkamp says
I have a raised strawberry bed that was planted by former owners. The first couple of years we lived here, the berries were big, beautiful, and prolific. I have a drip system, water them daily, and covered them with straw over the winter. This year, there were very few berries, they were small, seedy in some cases, and not very many of them. Didn’t do anything different this last winter except cover them with straw. The soil seems hard, and so I’m wondering if we should dig up the plants and start over so we can till the soil and add organic matter and fertilizer.
You should love it unconditional and not give up on it.
Hi. These sound like “June bearing” which means all the fruit comes at one time. ??
Several articles state that the plants need to be replaced in 5 years for June-bearing. All the others should be replaced in 3 years.
You may just need new plants. And also be sure to cut the plants back after last harvest.
How do I control all of the offshoots to keep an orderly strawberry garden for easy weeding and harvest. Do I clip them? Move them?
*I’m not a gardening expert,* but in early spring while I was cleaning up our garden for a new season, I had to clean up the strawberry row, which had sent runners and was growing in the walking path adjacent row beyond. I decided to use care and put all pulled plants in a couple of buckets to keep roots moist, then planted the best-looking ones in areas all around our property to “see what happens.” Not only did they take, but I’m even getting a few berries here and there from them!