Growing strawberries at home can be relatively easy if you get the 5 key requirements right. This guide will help you successfully grow long-lived berries with that old-fashioned truly sweet flavor. Strawberries can also be grown in containers and wintered over successfully if you take a few precautions.
Start with the Right Variety
- In choosing the strawberry variety to plant, start with researching those that are successful in your particular zone. This is going to be mostly dependent on how cold your winters are and how hot your summers are. Here is a link to one list of varieties, but I would call your local extension service for the most accurate information.
- Decide if your priority is flavor, firmness, or disease resistance
- Learn the difference between June bearing, ever-bearing, and day neutral (summary of this below), and decide which best fits your needs and your climate.
I am in Zone 4 (Minnesota) and I am an experienced gardener, but our summers are quite hot and humid. I opted for Jewel and Sparkle because they are the best tasting varieties of the June-bearing plants.
Also consider a small berry called an Alpine strawberry. It is a very easy and hardy strawberry variety to grow at home. They are more like a wild strawberry in size and growth habit, but they are very sweet and are perfect in hanging baskets or containers.
June-Bearing vs Ever-bearing vs Day Neutral
June bearing varieties form buds in the Fall and bloom the following Spring. These are often preferred if you want to grow via the mat method of letting the runners form new plants. Since they bloom in the spring, they are best for areas that don’t have a history of Spring frosts, as that can kill the blooms before producing
Ever-bearing varieties have 2 main harvests: June and early Fall. This is preferable for climates that have really hot summers. Typically these varieties are not productive as many years as are the June-bearing varieties. With these varieties, you typically pinch off the runners and encourage one healthy plant instead of a mat.
Day Neutral varieties are sensitive to temperature instead of day length. They will stop producing in temperatures above 75 degrees, so in areas with warm summers they will behave like the ever-bearing plants with an early and late harvest.
Prep the Bed (or Container) before Planting
There are basically 3 ways to grow strawberries: in a garden bed, in raised beds or in containers (or pots). Each approach has a few best practices that will help you be successful.
In containers or pots:
Most strawberries do not bear much (if at all) the first year. It is important, therefore, to grow them in moveable pots or removable planters if you live in a cold climate.
The soil isn’t deep enough in most containers to prevent freezing in the winter in colder climates. Moving them to a basement or garage for the winter is therefore necessary.
And don’t forget to drill drainage holes in the bottom of your containers. Strawberries do not like wet feet.
In raised beds:
This is an optimal way to grow strawberries if you are handy and have the space and the wherewith-all to construct raised beds and fill them with compost and soil. There are many, many ways to go about this and plans that you can purchase. Just allow yourself the time and budget it will take.
In the garden:
This is where I usually end up planting, as we have a small farm. The mistake I have made in the past is planting in an area where grasses and weeds take over the beds within a year.
It is really important to get rid of as many weeds (by the roots) as possible before planting. Strawberries have shallow roots and are easily out-competed. Grass is really tough to eliminate, and almost impossible to weed out once the strawberries start growing. Pick your location carefully!
Sun and Soil Requirements
Sun: Strawberries, like most berries, require full sun. They like 6 hours or more a day. The small Alpine strawberries can tolerate a bit more shade, but if you want large, sweet strawberries of old, they will need full sun
Soil: In a perfect world strawberries would have a loam soil that is well drained with a pH of 6 to 7 and plenty of micronutrients and worms. The key requirement is well drained. Strawberries do not like clay soils and wet feet.
Amend your soil with as much compost as you can find and then fertilize with an all purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer if needed.
How to Plant Strawberries
For June-bearing plants using a mat approach with runners, plant strawberries 18 to 24 inches apart.
For ever-bearing varieties where you are pinching off the runners, plant them 12 to 15 inches apart.
With bare root strawberry plants, the “crown” is the part of the plant where the leaves start.
To plant in the ground, first dig a small hole and make a mound of soil in the middle of the hole. Spread the bare roots out over the mound and fill in with soil. Plant the strawberry deep enough that the crown of the plant sits right at the top of the soil.
To plant strawberries in containers use the same method as in the ground. If you plan to Winter over the containers, make sure they are deep containers and that they are semi-protected in the Winter if you live in a cold climate. I store my containers in the shop which gets down to 40 degrees in the Winter (sometimes a bit colder)
Here is a photo of my strawberry container plants in May after wintering over in the shop:
Disease or Pests
Strawberries are susceptible to leaf blight, verticillium wilt, and powdery mildew. Be careful not to plant them in areas where you have grown tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, or potatoes, as the soil where these plants have grown frequently carry verticillium wilt.
Full sun, well-drained soil, and lack of weeds are the best preventative cure for disease.
There are several “pests” that can be problematic for strawberries. Birds are wonderful, but they can devour your crop and you may need to cover with bird netting.
Slugs, mites and weevils can also be a problem. If they are really bad, you may want to try some diatomaceous earth as a remedy.
You may have to wait a year after planting for fruit, especially if you pinch the flowers off to get bigger, stronger fruit.
The plants tend to be most productive for 2 to 5 years, with the June-bearing varieties being the longest lived. You may have to replant your crop after 5 years to continue getting a good crop.
A good home-grown strawberry is completely different from the tasteless berries you usually get in the grocery store. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use them:
Recipe for an easy Strawberry Fool
Recipe for Greek yogurt panna cotta with strawberries
Recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler with Citrus Syrup
For some awesome jam made with my home-grown strawberries, click here.