How to Plant and Grow Strawberries in Containers
Strawberries are one of the best plants to grow in containers, and they even do well indoors. All they need is a sunny spot where they can get at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. If you don't have a sunny enough window for them, you can be supplemented with artificial sunlight. To get the best results, you will need to choose the right type of strawberry and plant it correctly. When planting strawberries in a container, choose a light colored container to avoid over heating the soil the summer sun.
Purchasing and planting certified transplants is your first step in creating a healthy strawberry bed. Certified plants are virus free and help reduce the spread of other strawberry pathogens
Types of Strawberries
All of the numerous varieties of strawberries fall into one of three broad categories: June-bearing, everbearing, or day neutral.
June-bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop once a year during a three-week period, usually in June as their name suggests.
Everbearing, also called ever bearing, produce two crops of strawberries, one in the spring and another in the late summer or fall.
Day neutral are often considered new and improved everbearers since they are capable of bearing fruit continuously from June through September. Day neutral strawberries prefer cooler temperatures and will not flower or bear fruit during hot weather.
Choosing Your Strawberry Plant
The specific variety you choose from within any of these categories will depend on your climate, growing conditions, and when you want the fruit to ripen. For example, red alpine strawberries, an everbearer, are usually the best choice if you intend to grow your strawberries indoors because they are more tolerant to shady conditions. The Brighton variety, another everbearer, is known for doing well in hanging baskets.
If you plan to keep your plants outdoors, check with your local greenhouse to see what varieties will grow best in your area.
How to Plant and Grow Strawberries
Step 1 – Plant at the Right Time
Strawberries should be planted in the early spring in areas with a cold winter (zones 1 through 5) as soon as the soil can be worked. In warmer areas, strawberries can be planted in the fall. Of course, if you plan to keep them inside, strawberries can be planted at any time of year.
Step 2 – Prepping the Soil
Strawberries prefer a soil with a pH between 5.3 and 6.5 but will grow in soils that have a slightly higher or lower pH level. It is a good idea to add a controlled-release fertilizer to the soil before planting.
Step 3 – Trimming and Placement
Trim off any older leaves from the plant and remove all flowers and runners. Roots should be trimmed to about 4 to 5 inches in length, and any damaged areas should be removed. The plant should be placed in the soil so the midpoint of the crown is even with the soil's surface and the roots fan out.
Avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers were previously grown, as they are all host to vertericilium wilt.
Step 4 – Water Often
Water your strawberries well after planting and check daily. Water frequently until the plants take root. Then reduce watering to when the top inch is dry. Water is crucial for good fruit development.
For best results, water in the morning, so leaves are able to quickly dry. Using drip irrigation is also helpful to keep the leaves dry and diseases and pests at bay.
Step 5 - Pruning
For the first six weeks after planting, remove all blossoms on everbearing and day-neutral plants by either pinching or cutting them. This will give them time to become established before expending energy towards growing fruit.
Step 6 - Fertilize
Strawberries should be fertilized once a month using a well balanced fertilizer. Note that they can be sensitive to over feeding. So, if you’re getting excessive leaf growth but not much fruit, cut back on how often you add your fertilizer.
Step 7 – Keep Them Safe
Strawberries are prone to both aphids and spider mites, so be prepared to use an appropriate insecticide to combat any infestation.
Strawberries are also susceptible to developing powdery mildew and verticillium wilt. If your strawberry plant has purple spots on the top surface of its leaves and white fungus on the bottom, it has developed powdery mildew and needs to be treated with a fungicide.
Be sure to read the labels of fungicides carefully and follow all recommendations.
Hanging Strawberry Baskets
Suspending strawberries off the ground is a great way to keep slugs, snails, and sow bugs off them. During the spring, the top of a hanging basket can host 5-6 strawberry plants. However, for the ultimate hanging strawberry basket, follow these instructions.
Step 1 – Gather Your Materials
Gather 24 strawberry plants; a 16-inch wire basket; potting soil; and some sphagnum moss, coconut fiber, or a specially designed basket liner.
Step 2 – Line the Basket
Line the wire basket with the damp sphagnum moss, coconut fiber, or basket liner, and once you have a hearty lining, insert 18 of the plants into the basket sides through the sphagnum moss (or applicable layer).
Step 3 – Add Potting Soil and Remaining Plants
Then fill the basket with potting soil and plant the remaining plants in the top of the basket. The basket will continue to produce fruit for about three years.
Make sure hanging baskets are rotated to ensure that all plants get adequate light, six to eight hours of sun is required for fruit production.
One of the typical benefits of basket or container planting is that it makes your plant mobile. This gives you the freedom to regularly move it to the best sun or to pick it up and bring it inside away from harsh cold. However, if your strawberry plant has become too large or heavy to move inside for the winter, it can still be protected.
Mulching your strawberries with pine needles, straw, or newspaper is one way to protect the soil and roots from the cold. Plastic row covers are also useful, as they are clear enough to still let sunlight in while shielding your plant from the cold and trapping in heat.
It’s important that you wait until the actual frost season hits before doing these things. Mulching too soon can deprive the plant during a period when it can still grow, and putting a row cover on too soon or leaving it on too long can create a microclimate around the strawberry plant, causing it to experience a deadly shock when the cover is finally removed and it is exposed to the true climate.
Strawberry pots are designed to hold up to three plants at the top. The pockets in the sides hold any runners that developed as the plant matures. However, many gardeners fill all the openings with strawberry right from the start.
To plant your own strawberry pot, you will need a piece of PVC pipe that is capped at one end, a drill, potting soil, and a strawberry pot. Cut the pipe so that it fits inside the strawberry pot with the uncapped end even with the pot's rim. Drill 1/8 inch diameter holes 1 inch apart down alternating sides of the pipe. In other words, on one side your first hole might be 1/2 inch from the top, but on the other side your first hole would be 1 inch from the top.
Partially fill the pot with soil and insert the tube, capped end down, into the center of the pot. Loosely add the rest of the potting mix. Plant each pocket. Add more soil around the roots if needed. Finish by planting two to three plants at the top and soaking the soil well. Water the pot by inserting a funnel into the pipe. The funnel ensures that water is distributed evenly through the pot.
Strawberries are ready for picking as soon as the fruit has turns red. Of course, the exact shade of red that indicates ripeness depends on the variety of the strawberry. It’s best to pick the fruit gently during dry weather, making sure that the green calyx (stalk) of the plant remains with the fruit.
Strawberries can be stored for about two days in shallow trays in the refrigerator. For longer periods, it is best to freeze them.