Strawberries are the quintessential summer fruit. When planted and grown successfully, they can produce a rich crop of sweet fruit all summer long. Getting this bumper crop of fruit, however, requires more than sticking plants in the ground and watering them occasionally. Careful tending and patience are the secrets to earning the biggest and sweetest berries.
Besides these two qualities, there are a number of tips and tricks that can make your strawberry growing adventure more successful. Here are 10 of our favorite tips for growing strawberries.
1. Plant a variety of strawberries
Eating sweet, juicy strawberries straight from the garden is one of the highlights of the summer. You can make sure you enjoy a bounty of fruit all summer by planting a variety of strawberry plants.
There are three main types of strawberry plants: June plants, which fruit in June; day neutral, which fruit in smaller amounts consistently through the summer, and everbearing, which produce 2-3 crops throughout the summer.
If you choose two or three varieties for your garden, you can easily guarantee lots of fruit throughout the season.
2. Choose hardy varieties
Strawberry plants tend to be vulnerable to a variety of fungal diseases, including verticillium wilt, fruit rot, and root rot. These diseases have the potential to kill off your harvest and even your plants.
Keeping an eye out for disease, and treating it promptly should it arise, is an important part of successfully growing strawberries. However, you can minimize the chances of your plants suffering from these diseases in the first place by selecting disease-resistant varieties.
You can usually tell how disease resistant a plant is by checking at the store where you buy them. You may also be able to tell by checking the information that comes with the plant.
3. Take advantage of the sun, except when planting
Strawberries love the sun. Ideally, you should plant them in full sun to encourage vibrant growth and a healthy harvest. They do best when they receive 6-10 hours of direct sunlight every day.
However, if you want to give your strawberries the best start possible, do not plant them when it is sunny outside. Instead, plant them early in the morning, in the evening, or when it is cloudy. The cooler temperatures and less direct light will keep the tender young plants from wilting or burning while they settle into their new home.
4. Plant your strawberries in raised beds
Technically, you can plant strawberries in a variety of locations: Directly in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers.
However, planting them directly in the ground usually requires you to amend your soil to create the loam-like, nutrient-rich environment strawberry plants need to thrive. You may spend hours getting the soil just right.
In addition, being directly on the ground can make strawberry plants more susceptible to diseases and pests. Containers can work, but may make it harder for the strawberries to spread, or for you to plant as many as you want to ensure a bountiful harvest.
The easiest and safest way to plant a large crop of strawberries is to use raised beds. These provide enough room for all your plants to grow freely, while keeping them up away from fungus and pests. In addition, you can easily add whatever soil you need to keep your plants thriving.
5. Give them space
Most strawberry plants love to spread out. They put out runners that develop into new plants. As a result, happy strawberry plants need plenty of space. Unless your plants come with instructions to the contrary, plan to put about 18 inches between them.
6. Cover your strawberry plants with straw
Strawberries love direct sunlight, but their roots do not like the heat. Too much heat can dry out the roots very quickly.
The solution to this problem is to cover the base of your strawberry plants with mulch, specifically straw. The straw prevents the growth of weeds and prevents the roots from drying out. In addition, it keeps the roots cooler, so the plants can grow healthy and strong even in the heat.
7. Prevent fruit for the first year
After you plant your strawberries, you may be eager to pick your first crop of luscious berries. However, you should instead prevent fruit from setting during that first year.
If you do not wait, the strawberry plants will use their energy to put out flowers and fruit. While a wonderful thing for the first year, it means the plants will not use energy to develop the strength and root systems they need to survive the winter. Your strawberry plants will not come back the next year.
If you pinch off all of the flowers for the first 4-6 weeks of the first year, however, you encourage your plants to direct their energy toward establishing themselves for the winter. They will be able to survive the colder temperatures and come back year after year to deliver bountiful harvests.
For some strawberry plants, like the June variety, pinching off flowers those first few weeks will mean no berries for the year. Other varieties, like the day neutral and ever bearing, may be able to set fruit later on in the season. Regardless, patience in those first few weeks will lead to stronger, perennial plants.
8. Water one inch weekly
Strawberry plants are thirsty little plants. In order to grow properly, they require about an inch of water every week. Keep them watered, but spread out the watering so they do not stay wet for long periods of time. You do not want to facilitate rot among your strawberry plants.
9. Remove any sign of disease
Despite selecting hardy varieties of strawberry plants, you may find your plants developing fungal diseases. Do not despair. This is a problem that can be fixed. Once you begin to see signs of disease, remove the leaves that are exhibiting signs of illness.
Signs of disease typically include spots on the leaves that can gradually spread over the leaf. Removing affected leaves can prevent the spread of the disease and save your strawberry plants.
10. Harvest before they are ripe
Finally, it is time to harvest your bounty. You have waited a year, carefully kept your plants watered and free of weeds and disease. They have thrived under your care and are now laden with fruit just starting to turn red. The only question now is when to harvest that fruit.
While you may feel like waiting until the strawberries hit that perfect, brilliant shade of red, you are better off picking them just a little bit early.
Plucking those berries before they hit the peak of ripeness does two things for you. First, it allows you to have some time to cook, freeze, or eat your crop. Waiting a day or two will not ruin the harvest.
Secondly, harvesting your berries a bit early gives you the chance to enjoy your fruit before the birds do. If you wait until the strawberries are perfectly red, you may never get to pick them at all, because the birds might take them first.
Strawberries are a delectable summer treat. If you choose to enjoy them straight from your own garden, you have the chance to reap a harvest for years to come. Simply make sure you follow these 10 tips for getting the most out of your strawberry plants. Happy growing!