Freshly picked strawberries are juicy and sweet. These delicious red berries are a favorite in smoothies, fruit salads, and as a side for desserts. Take a bite of a strawberry tart made with fresh strawberries, and your taste buds will dance with delight.
If you plant your strawberries in the right spot, care for them throughout the growing season, and harvest them at the right time, then you’ll have a bountiful crop. Homegrown strawberries are much sweeter than those from the grocery store. The sugars slowly dissipate after harvest, and they are best eaten right after picking.
If you’re thinking about growing strawberry plants in your garden this season, then this growing guide will give you everything you need to know. We cover planting, caring, and harvesting your strawberries.
The Types of Strawberry Plants
Strawberry plants come in different varieties. Each has its unique characteristics, affecting the size, coloring, and taste of the strawberry.
These strawberry plants will fruit once during the growing season, producing berries for around 3-weeks. These plants are sensitive to light conditions, producing buds in the fall, and flowers, and berries the following June.
The long days of summer allow the plants to produce runners, which grow quickly. For those people living in the Southern States, the plants might flower in early to mid-May.
These strawberry plants produce an abundant crop during the spring, and a light crop during the summertime. The plant’s final crop comes in the early fall, also somewhat lighter than the initial yield of the first pre-summer harvest.
This variety produces buds during the long days of the summertime, as well as the shorter days during the fall.
This variety of strawberry plant produces buds and berries through the early spring to the end of the fall when the first frosts fall on the ground.
These plants have no sensitivity to daylight hours, producing runners, buds, and berries as long as the air temperature stays in a range between 35° and 85°F. However, while these plants fruit through the entire season, they don’t produce the same yields as June-bearing varieties.
- Strawberries are low-growing herbaceous plants with a fibrous root system and a crown from which arise basal leaves.
- The leaves are compound, typically with three leaflets, sawtooth-edged, and usually hairy.
- The flowers, generally white, rarely reddish, are borne in small clusters on slender stalks arising, like the surface-creeping stems, from the axils of the leaves.
- The flesh consists of the greatly enlarged flower receptacle and is embedded with the many true fruits, or achenes, which are popularly called seeds.
- The fruits are rich in vitamin C and are commonly eaten fresh as a dessert fruit, are used as a pastry or pie filling, and may be preserved in many ways.
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Tips for Planting Strawberries
You should plant your strawberries as soon as the last frosts fall, and the ground starts to thaw. It’s best to get the plants in the ground as soon as you can till and work with the soil. See your local frost dates for advisories in your area.
The best strategy for planting strawberries is to establish new plants at the beginning of each season. Adding new plants to your garden helps to keep your berry quality high, and provide the biggest yields for your plants.
We recommend you buy young plants from a nursery or online, instead of starting your plants from seed, especially if you are a novice gardener. Most nurseries offer disease-resistant plants that are suitable for your local climate conditions.
Tips for Preparing Your Planting Site
When preparing to plant your strawberry bushes, picking the right spot in the garden is critical if you want the best yields. Strawberry plants require at least 6 to 10-hours of sunlight during the peak summer season. Strawberry plants prefer the morning sun, with shade in the afternoon.
- If you own a greenhouse, then you can expect larger yields and bigger berries. Strawberry plants prefer a loamy soil, but they will grow and fruit in most soil types. A few months before planting your berries, prepare the ground with manure and fertilizer to allow enough time for the nutrients to spread in the soil.
- If your soil has a clay texture, work in some vermiculite, perlite, and 4-inches of compost to improve the drainage. If you have sandy soil in your garden, rake in the compost, and you’re ready to go. We suggest you leave the garden to rest over the winter.
- If you live in a colder region of the United States, such as the Northern States, then ensure you prepare your ground before the freeze sets in for the winter. Your garden will be ready for planting as soon as the ground thaws in the early springtime.
- Use a pH monitor to check your soil, or take it to your local nursery for analysis. Strawberries prefer growing in soil that’s between 5.5 and 7. It’s critical to ensure that you make your soil amendments to adjust the pH before you start planting.
- If your soil is naturally alkaline, then you might get better results growing your strawberry plants in barrels or planters where you can control the soil pH conditions throughout the growing season.
Barrels and half-barrel growing systems are the ideal choices for greenhouse gardeners that want to maximize their crop yield while minimizing greenhouse floor space taken by the crop.
The most crucial part of preparing your planting site is ensuring that you have adequate drainage in the soil. Your strawberry plant doesn’t like to get its “feet wet,” and wet roots can lead to the development of root rot.
For best results, practice seasonal crop rotation if you’re planting in the ground. Don’t plant your strawberries in locations previously used for growing peppers, tomatoes, or eggplant.
Planting Your Strawberries
For best results with your strawberry plants, make sure you plant them at least 20-inches apart. Leave four-feet between rows to provide enough space for the runners. Strawberry plants like to sprawl during the growing season, and the seedlings send out runners that also produce more runners.
Before planting your strawberry, make sure that you trim the roots back to 8-inches in length. When digging the hole, make sure it’s deep and wide enough to cover the entire root system without bending the roots. However, it’s critical not to plant too deep that you cover the crown.
Leave the crown uncovered at the surface of the soil. If you plant over the crown, it results in the rotting of the plant. After planting, make sure you water the strawberry bush thoroughly to minimize transplant shock.
Caring for Your Strawberries
During the early summer, mulch around the base of the plant using a premium quality fertilizer. Pull all weeds and be diligent about weeding your garden through the season. Water your plants three times a week, for a total of 1-inch.
When the plant starts producing runners, it requires more watering, so up your watering schedule when the first runners start appearing. Use general fertilizer at the beginning of the summer to bolster growth and increase fruiting.
In warm climates, your strawberry plant will start producing berries 30-days after fertilizing the blossoms. In the first year, we recommend that you pick off the blooms to prevent the plant from fruiting. The first season with your plant produces under-ripe berries that don’t taste great. However, successive seasons will produce ripe and tasty berries.
Overwintering Your Strawberries
Strawberry plants are perennial, meaning that they live for multiple seasons. Strawberries handler to colder months of the year quite well. With the right preparation before the cold weather sets in, you can successfully overwinter your strawberry plants.
If you live in a region of the United States that has mild winters, then you won’t have to worry about any wintertime preparations. The plants will survive with minimal water until the spring; however, if you live in a climate where the temperatures fall below the 20°F.
Make sure you mulch over the plant during the start of winter. If you experience snow, cover the plant with burlap. The mulch will help to retain moisture in the soil over the winter without freezing the root system. You don’t need to water the plant over the winter. Remove the burlap and mulch after the last frosts fall in your region.
Common Pests and Diseases Affecting Strawberries
Strawberries are sweet and tasty, and there are plenty of pests that agree with you. Some of the common pests affecting strawberry plants include Japanese beetles and spider mite, as well as slugs. If you notice the signs of leaves wilting on your plants, you could be dealing with any of these pests. Use an organic pesticide to bring your plants back to health.
Diseases affecting strawberry plants include gray mold and powdery mildew. Wedding your beds and using a gritty-style mulch can help to deter pests like slugs. Pureed garlic mixed with neem oil is an excellent organic pesticide. If birds start eating your berries, cover them with a shade cloth frame.
Tips for Harvesting Strawberries
Your strawberries are ready for harvest around 4 to 6-weeks after blossoming. Only harvest the ripe berries, and pick your strawberry pant every third day during the fruiting season. Make sure that you cut the berry on the stem, pulling the berry from the could damage your plant. If you’re growing a June-bearing variety, then the harvest will extend for three weeks.
Tips for Storing Strawberries
After picking your berries, leave them unwashed in the refrigerator for three to five days. If you have more berries than you can eat, then store them in an airtight bag in the freezer for up to 3-months.