Are you a beginner gardener looking for an easy way to get started? Or are you an experienced gardener wanting to add to your crop collection without adding too much extra work? If either of those sound like you, consider growing strawberries as your next (or first) crop. This handy guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how to grow strawberries. Before you know it, you’ll be dining on the sweetest fruit of the vine!
Types of Strawberries
Gardeners who want to grow strawberries can choose between three main varieties: June-bearing, ever-bearing, and day-neutral. If you want to stock your pantry for wintertime with fruit preserves, June-bearers are an excellent choice for their large crop. On the other hand, ever-bearing strawberries are better suited for regular snacking, producing smaller amounts across two main yields in early summer and in fall. Day-neutral strawberries produce three smaller yields across the season and tend to be somewhat hardier than their June-bearing and ever-bearing cousins.
Where to Plant Strawberries
When planning your garden, it’s usually helpful to plan out the number of plants you’ll need to fill your available space. However, if you don’t order enough, there is no need to worry. Strawberry plants spread quickly and need room to grow their runners. They’ll fill in a bed quickly without assistance from you.
Strawberries are a highly versatile plant that grows well in any garden. Try planting them directly in the ground in your backyard or in raised beds. For those without outdoor gardening space, you can even grow strawberries indoors or on a porch in containers.
No matter where you choose to plant your strawberries, just make sure they will receive adequate sunlight. This bright, cheery fruit also prefers a bright environment; select a space with 8 hours of full sunlight per day.
Soil can be one of the most challenging aspects of gardening for beginners to understand. Luckily, strawberries are relatively easy-going, requiring slightly acidic soil between 5.5 and 6.8 pH. Most likely, your native soil will suffice. If in doubt, you can test your soil to find its pH level. If it is above 7 pH or contains heavy clay, it may be a better alternative to grow your plants in raised beds or containers with potting mix.
Add organic aged compost to enrich your soil, whether planting into the ground or in containers. Then, pulverize the soil to about 6 inches of depth. This allows the roots and runners to penetrate the soil with ease.
Once your soil is ready in rows or containers, you can start planting. To grow strawberries from seed, you’ll need to plant them in starter trays and wait for them to germinate, which takes anywhere from one to 6 weeks. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll discuss planting strawberry plants, which you can purchase from your local nursery.
Generally speaking, when planting strawberries, you will want to keep them 18 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. This allows plenty of room for runners and new growth. First, dig a hole large enough to comfortably contain the plant’s roots. Next, cover the roots with soil up to the crown. Be careful not to cover the crown, leaves, or flowers with soil. If any of these parts can’t get enough sunlight, the whole plant will rot and die. Once nestled in the ground, water your plants generously.
Strawberries are best planted in the spring (March or April) to give them time to settle before the warmest months. However, if you live in a warm, humid climate further south (zone 7, for instance), you can also plant strawberries in the fall.
While your strawberry plants are growing, make sure they are well-mulched and well-fertilized. Strawberries love any mulch: compost, pine needles, shredded leaves, or straw. A layer of mulch will not only help keep them hydrated but also prevent weeds from growing. For fertilizer, stick to a 10-10-10 fertilizer. However, only fertilize them during growth periods, not during the fruiting periods.
If you want to have well-established, healthy strawberry plants for the next few years, this next step is crucial. The plants should start flowering in early spring, and you will have to cut off all the flowers. This allows the plant to focus its energy on growing strong and producing runners. The downside is that you won’t get to harvest strawberries this season. However, consider this growth period an investment to make better quality plants and fruits next year.
If you are in your second year of growing strawberries, this is your fruiting season. Don’t cut off the flower buds. Instead, jump for joy whenever you see pollinators like birds and bees among your plants. Not only are you helping the environment, but your strawberry flowers must be pollinated to bear fruit.
In addition, June-bearing and ever-bearing strawberries have different requirements during the growth stage. When growing June-bearing plants, weed out some runners until you have just five plants to one square foot. Limiting the number of runners in this way will bring about a smaller yield, but the fruits will be larger. For ever-bearing plants, you’ll need to cut off buds and runners through the end of June. As a result, the plants will produce multiple large-fruit harvests across the season.
Last but not least – water is a key ingredient! Give your strawberry plants one inch of water during the growth period, whether through natural rainfall, a gardening hose, or a watering can. Turn it up to two inches of water when the fruits start showing, and keep it consistent during the hotter, drier months.
How to Harvest Strawberries
You’ll know your strawberries are ready for harvest by their bright, red color. You should always allow your strawberry fruits to ripen on the plant. Before harvesting them all at once, give one strawberry a taste test. When you are ready to harvest them, use garden shears or your thumb and first finger to gently snap the berry off at the stem right above the cap. Make sure not to pull at the berries to tear them off, as strawberry plants are delicate.
When you grow strawberries in your home garden, you’re in for a much sweeter and tastier berry than the ones you’ll find at the store. That’s because the sugar in strawberries converts to starch soon after they are picked – which means strawberries picked fresh off the vine will always taste better! That said, try to only pick your strawberries when you’re ready to use them. Otherwise, store your freshly picked strawberries in a cool, dry, dark place like your refrigerator. Now you’re ready to start making jams, jellies, salads, and desserts!
Not only are they easy to grow, but they will also add an attractive pop of red to your garden and your kitchen. Eat them raw as a healthy snack, or toss them in sugar to make a delicious summertime dessert. No matter how you like to enjoy them, homegrown strawberries are sure to become a favorite in your family!