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Strawberries: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Strawberries at Home | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow Strawberry Plants: The Complete Guide

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Pixabay
Botanical Name
Fragaria spp.
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Sun Exposure
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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Strawberries

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You’ll never find that sweet strawberry taste as good as the one you’ve grown yourself or picked from a farm. Why? The sugar in berries converts to starch soon after they’re picked. Learn more about how to grow strawberries in your garden or containers.

Garden strawberries are typically much sweeter and juicier than you can find in the grocery stores. Strawberries are also perennials, so they’ll come back year after year!  Plus, they will grow easily wherever there is outdoor space and in almost any climate or soil, from garden beds to pots to hanging baskets.

Strawberry plants come in four types:

  • June-bearing strawberries bear fruit in one go, usually over a period of three weeks. The berries tend to be larger. Despite their name, you can choose from early-, mid-, and late-season varieties. that fruit anytime from early to late summer.
     
  • Everbearing strawberries (also called perpetual or all-season strawberries) produce steadily throughout the summer and even into autumn. They have smaller berries and are great for making jam or freezing.
     
  • Day-neutral strawbrries (closely related to everbearers) also produce fruit continuously through the season. Insensitive to day length, these varieties produce buds, fruits, and runners continuously if the temperature remains between 35° and 85°F (1° to 30°C). Production is less than that of June-bearers.
     
  • Alpine Strawberries: In a little world of their own are the alpine and wild strawberries. These are much smaller plants that form far smaller berries, but they have an almost impossibly intense flavor – perfect for topping your morning cereal, for example! They require less attention than bigger strawberry plants and, once established, will pretty much look after themselves, making an attractive edging plant or even growing out from the cracks or walls.
    They will naturally self-seed to create a useful edible ground cover.

For the home garden, we recommend June-bearers. Although you will have to wait a year for fruit harvesting, it will be well worth it.

Summer-Fruiting / June-Bearing

Everbearing / Perpetual

Day-Neutral

Short, intense cropping period

Small flushes over longer periods

Steady production all season long

Larger berries

Medium-sized berries

Medium-sized berries

Fruits in the summer

Fruits from summer to autumn

Fruits from summer to autumn

Vigorous runner production

Fewer runners

Moderate runner production

Planting

Strawberry plants require 6 to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day, so choose a sunny spot. Otherwise, strawberries are tolerant of different soil types, although they prefer loamy soil that drains well.  

To ensure a strong start, add a few buckets of well-rotted manure before planting; you could also use garden compost. If you have clay soil, generally mix in 4 inches or more of compost and rake the clay soil into raised mounds to further improve drainage. If your soil is sandy, simply cultivate lightly to remove weeds and mix in a 1-inch layer of rich compost or rotted manure.

Soil pH should be between 5.5 and 7. If necessary, amend your soil before planting. If soils in your area are naturally alkaline, it is best to grow strawberries in half-barrels or other large containers filled with compost-enriched potting soil. Raised beds are a particularly good option for strawberry plants.

Practice crop rotation for the most success. Unless you plan to amend your soil each year, do not plant in a site that recently had tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant.

Also, note that strawberries and garlic are good planting companions if you wish to interplant. Garlic helps deter pests like spider mites. 

When to Plant Strawberries

  • Plan to plant when the ground can be worked in the spring. See your local frost dates.
  • Establish new plants each year to keep berry quality high each season. Strawberry plants will produce runners (daughter plants) that will root and grow into new strawberry plants.
  • Buy disease-resistant plants from a reputable nursery, of a variety that is recommended in your area. You can consult with the nursery you buy them from or with your state Cooperative Extension service for locally recommended varieties.
  • You can buy strawberries in pots, but also you can sometimes find bare-root strawberries or runners, which offer really excellent value for money. They look fairly shocking, without any leaves and rather scraggly, but don’t let that put you off. Once they hit the soil, they’ll be well away! 

Spacing for Strawberries

How to Plant Strawberries

  • Provide adequate space for sprawling. Allow for spacing of around 18 inches (1-1/2 feet) to leave room for runners and leave 4 feet between rows. Strawberries are sprawling plants. Seedlings will send out runners, which in turn will send out their own runners. (Container strawberries can be planted closer together.)
  • Make planting holes deep and wide enough to accommodate the entire root system without bending it. However, don’t plant too deep! The roots should be covered, but the crown should be right at the soil surface. It is very important that you do NOT bury the crown (central growing bud) of the plant, or it could rot. The leaves, flowers, and fruit must be exposed to light and fresh air. 
  • To settle their roots into the soil, water plants well at the time of planting.
  • Use a mulch of the strawberry’s namesake – straw! 
  • It is also possible to grow strawberries from last year’s runners. See this video to find out how

Planting Strawberries in Containers

Potted strawberries are easy to get right. They go in at the same depth as the potting mix in the container, but for bare-rooted plants, make sure you don’t go too deep or too shallow. If too deep, the plant may struggle and could potentially rot away. If too shallow, it will rock about and dry out really easily, creating a weak and brittle plant. You want the crown of the plant where the stems of the leaves emerge to be ever so slightly proud of the soil surface. Learn more about growing strawberries in pots.

Watch this video to see how to plant strawberries in garden beds or containers.

Growing

How to Grow Strawberries

  • The big tip with strawberries is to keep them well watered while they are establishing their roots and during dry weather. Moisture is incredibly important due to its shallow roots. Water adequately, about one inch per square foot per week. Strawberry plants need a lot of water when the runners and flowers are developing and again in the late summer when the plants are fully mature and gearing up for winter dormancy.
  • Keep strawberry beds mulched to reduce water needs and weed invasion. Any type of mulch—from black plastic to pine straw to shredded leaves—will keep the soil moist and the plants clean. Read more about mulching.
  • Be diligent about weeding—weed by hand, especially in the first months after planting.
  • Once strawberries start to flower, fertilize with a high-potassium, liquid tomato feed to encourage good fruit production. Plants also benefit from the addition of an organic, general-purpose fertilizer early in spring, as they set into growth, to help power things up for the new season.
  • In the first year, pick off blossoms to discourage strawberry plants from fruiting. If not allowed to bear fruit, they will spend their food reserves on developing healthy roots instead, which is a good thing. The yields will be much greater in the second year.
  • Eliminate runner plants as needed. First and second generations produce higher yields. Try to keep daughter plants spaced about 10 inches apart.
  • Row covers are a good option for protecting blossoms and fruit from birds.
Strawberries. Photo by Yuriy S./Getty Images
Photo by Yuriy S./Getty Images

Winter Care of Strawberries

Strawberry plants are perennial. They are naturally cold-hardy and will survive mildly freezing temperatures. So, if your area has mild winters, little care is needed.

In regions where the temperature regularly drops into the low twenties (Fahrenheit), strawberries will be in their dormant stage. It’s best to provide some winter protection:

  • When the growing season is over, mow or cut foliage down to one inch. This can be done after the first couple of frosts or when air temps reach 20°F (-6°C).
  • Mulch plants about 4 inches deep with straw, pine needles, or other organic material.
  • In even colder regions, more insulating mulch should be added.  
  • Natural precipitation should appropriately maintain sufficient soil moisture.  
  • Remove mulch in early spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Propagating Strawberries

Strawberries produce long, wiry stems called runners with little plantlets along them. You can use these to grow more strawberries by just pinning the plantlets down to root and then severing them from the mother plant once they have. See our article for details on how to grow more strawberries!
 

Harvesting

How to Harvest Strawberries

  • When you grow you own, you can peak at the peak of ripeness. No more white strawberries! Harvest only fully red (ripe) berries, and pick every three days. 
  • Fruit is typically ready for harvesting 4 to 6 weeks after blossoming.
  • Ideally, pick fruits in the warmth of the afternoon for maximum flavor. 
  • Cut by the stem; do not pull the berry, or you could damage the plant.
  • For June-bearer strawberries, the harvest will last up to 3 weeks. You should have an abundance of berries, depending on the variety.

How to Store Strawberries

  • Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
  • Strawberries can be frozen whole for about 2 months.
  • Dehydrate them or turn them into delicious jams. Watch our video on How to Make Strawberry Preserves!
Strawberry Bed. Photo by Ben Shuchunke/Getty Images
Photo by Ben Shuchunke/Getty Images
Gardening Products
Wit and Wisdom

Why Are Strawberries Called Strawberries? 

One theory is that woodland pickers strung them on pieces of straw to carry them to market. Others believe that the surface of the fruit looks as if it’s embedded with bits of straw. Others think that the name comes from the Old English word meaning “to strew,” because the plant’s runners stray in all directions and look as if they are strewn on the ground.

The June full Moon is called the Strawberry Moon because when this Moon appeared, it signaled that it was time to start gathering ripening fruit.

Pests/Diseases

Pest-Beating Tips

  • Watch out for birds! Netting is one option to physically keep them off developing fruits; make sure it’s in place before the fruits start to swell and color-up.
  • The other pest to watch out for is slugs. Set up slug traps among your plants or, for more organic slug-control tips, or use beer traps. Spread sand over the strawberry bed to deter slugs. (This also works well for lettuce.) Pine needles also foil slug and pill-bug damage.
  • For bigger bugs such as Japanese beetles, spray your plants with puréed garlic and neem seed oil.
  • The other thing to watch out for is frost early on in the season, when plants are flowering. Strawberries are super-hardy, but if a frost gets at the flowers, they’ll turn to a blackened mush and won’t be viable. So, cover flowering plants with row covers or cloches should a frosty night threaten.
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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