When, Where and How to Plant Strawberries
Strawberries are quintessential summer fruits, with their pretty flowers and bright berries calling from the garden as the days warm. They are easy to grow, and well-established plants return year after year. Best of all, they're versatile—rows of strawberries in ground gardens offer plentiful produce, and it’s just as nice to pluck your berries from compact hanging planters. Here’s what you need to know to successfully grow loads of sweet strawberries.
Step 1 - Decide on Growing Space
Strawberries are versatile plants that can be grown in rows, clustered in beds, or stuffed into planters or hanging baskets. Each location requires a slightly different approach, so where to plant should be your first decision.
If you’ve had issues with ground rot or bugs eating your fruit, hanging baskets are a good choice. They also work well for those with limited growing space. Alternately, if your goal is to produce mass amounts of strawberries for jam, storage, or selling, and space isn’t an issue, consider planting in rows.
When planting outdoors, make sure to consider wildlife. If deer, bunnies or other creatures like to graze on your fresh produce, choose a well-protected garden area.
Although strawberries are a low-maintenance crop, certain factors will increase your chances of success. For example, make sure your plants receive full sun. Six hours per day is a minimum for most varieties, and even shadows have an effect, so select a location where they can really drink in the sunlight. However, you don’t want to put your plants through a drought, so make sure they are easy to access for watering.
Step 2 - Select the Right Plants
Like most plants, strawberries have different characteristics depending on their varietal. For the success of your garden, it’s important to choose the right kind.
If you're planning to hang your strawberries, avoid plants that toss out root runners to spread, as these don’t do well in containers. Instead, look for day-neutral strawberries. Tristar, Tribute, Mara des Bois, Evie, Albion, Quinault, and Ogallala are all great options for your hanging plants.
You might also find success with the somewhat rare alpine varieties, which are generally grown from seed. Alpine strawberries are related to wild strawberries. They grow from spring through fall, and do well in shady areas.
For outdoor gardens, go with the large, juicy, June-bearing options. Select everbearing for multiple harvests, and mix in different types of plants so later blooming strawberries are producing as the early-ripeners shut down for the year.
Step 3 - Prepare Soil
Your plants will reward you for giving them the proper nutrients. Start with a rich, well-balanced soil. If your dirt isn’t already fortified, create a fertile mix by working in compost, rotted manure, and some peat moss at planting time. Make sure to put down a generous layer of soil to offer room for roots to meander and water to drain.
Step 4 - Plant Your Strawberries
For hanging gardens, use any container that works for your needs. If you don't want to purchase a planter, you have plenty of upcycled options, from thick plastic bags, to kitchen strainer, to old coffee cans. Add some container potting soil, shake it down, and water several times as you plant. Container strawberries can be planted right next to each other.
In raised beds or garden rows, simply remove the strawberries from the plastic nursery tray (whether purchased or grown from seed), give the roots a little massage to loosen compacted soil, and put them into the ground. Lightly press the earth around the plant to give it some stability. Plant your berries between six and 10 inches apart.
Step 5 - Strawberry Care
Depending on the type of strawberries you have, you may need to water daily, or even more often in extremely hot weather. Some varietals only need water once or twice a week. Consider hooking up a drip system with a timer for plants in soil that dries out quickly.
Give your plants a slow release fertilizer, especially while they get established. Every few weeks, water with a compost tea that's rich in nutrients. Ease up on the fertilizer once berries form, and continue to water as they plump up and ripen.
Step 6 - Harvest
Pick berries when they are full and mostly red. They should pop off the vine fairly easily (you shouldn't have to tug) when they are ripe. Eat your strawberries fresh, throw them on some strawberry shortcake, mix up a strawberry-rhubarb pie, or make them into a jam.
If you can’t use your strawberries right away, cut the greenery off the top and lay them on a cookie sheet to freeze. Once frozen, move them to a freezer bag to use for smoothies and other recipes throughout the year.