Are you looking to add a delicious and healthy treat to your backyard garden? Look no further than growing strawberries! This article will teach you everything you need to know about growing strawberries, from planting to harvesting and preserving your crop.
There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked, juicy strawberry straight from your own backyard. Strawberries are easy to grow and have a variety of uses. Eat them just picked from the garden, make healthy strawberry smoothies, bake a strawberry pie with them, add them to a beverage, or make strawberry jam. However you decide to use them, you won’t regret growing strawberries.
Homegrown strawberries are the best you will ever taste. When strawberries are allowed to ripen on the vine, they have a sweet flavor and aroma that supermarket berries can’t match.
Strawberries are one of the easiest things to grow in the home garden. You can plant them in the garden or containers. They will be happy and productive in any sunny location.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the basics of growing strawberries, from planting to harvesting, and even ways to preserve your crop. So put on your gardening gloves, grab your trowel, and let’s get started!
Humans have enjoyed wild strawberries for thousands of years for food and medicinal purposes. There are many different varieties of wild strawberries that are native to North America.
The most common native strawberry in the US is the Fragaria virginiana, also known as the meadow berry and primarily found east of the Mississippi. Other wild strawberries include the temperate eastern berry Fragaria vesca and the coastal berry Fragaria chiloensis, which grows from Alaska to California.
The modern garden strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa), as we know it today, is a hybrid species created in the mid-18th century by crossing two wild strawberry species, Fragaria chiloensis from South America and Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America. This hybrid fruit quickly became popular due to its larger size and ability to hold up to commercial farming and transportation.
Today, strawberries are a beloved fruit enjoyed fresh and in many recipes, from strawberry-rhubarb pie to strawberry shortcake, along with jams, jellies, and even salad dressing.
Types of Strawberries to Consider Growing
When it comes to choosing a variety of garden strawberries to grow, there are three types to consider: June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral strawberries.
June Bearing Strawberries
June-bearing strawberries are favored for their large fruit and intense flavor. These strawberries produce a crop that is ripe and ready to harvest all at once, typically over a 2 to 3-week period in mid-June to early July (or even as early as May in warm climates). This makes June bearers an excellent choice if you’re looking for a big harvest of strawberries that you can preserve by making jams, jellies, or freezing.
Some examples of June-bearing strawberry varieties include:
- Allstar: This variety produces large, firm fruit with a classic strawberry flavor. It’s resistant to many common strawberry diseases and pests, making it a popular choice for home gardeners.
- Earliglow: As the name suggests, this variety is an early producer, with fruit typically ripening in late May to early June. The berries are medium-sized, with a sweet and tangy flavor many people enjoy.
- Honeoye: This hardy variety developed by Cornell University is known for its high yield and large, deep red fruit. The berries have a slightly tart flavor, making them an excellent choice for making jams and other preserves.
- Jewel: This variety produces large, glossy berries with a sweet flavor and firm texture. It’s resistant to many common strawberry diseases and pests, making it a reliable choice for home gardeners.
- Sparkle: This variety produces medium-sized, bright red fruit with a classic strawberry flavor. It’s a good choice for gardeners in colder climates because it’s hardy and can withstand frost.
The tough part about growing June-bearing varieties is the wait. During the first year, it is recommended that the flowers be removed to encourage the plants to grow runners to fill the bed during the hot days of summer and set buds in fall for the following year’s berry production. Fruit production occurs in the second spring.
Everbearing strawberries, as the name suggests, produce two crops, one in the spring and a second one in the late summer, and a few ripe berries here and there during the summer. The plants will continually form buds for the next crop.
While the overall yield of everbearing strawberries may be smaller than the June-bearing varieties, they do offer the advantage of a longer harvest season. This means that you can enjoy fresh strawberries over a longer period of time rather than all at once.
Additionally, everbearing strawberries tend to be hardier and more disease-resistant than other types of strawberries, which means they require less maintenance and are easier to grow. Everbearing strawberries will send out runners after the main crop, which will produce fruit the following year.
Some examples of everbearing strawberry varieties include:
- Evie 2: This variety is prized for its large, sweet fruit and long harvest season. It produces fruit in both the spring and fall, making it a great choice for gardeners who want a steady supply of fresh strawberries.
- Ozark Beauty: This variety is known for its long harvest season, with fruit typically ripening from June to October. The berries are medium-sized and have a bright red color and sweet flavor.
- Quinault: This variety produces large, juicy fruit with a sweet and mild flavor. Developed by Washington State University, it grows well in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest regions and is known for its strong plant growth and disease resistance. It produces a spring crop and another in summer, allowing you to enjoy its sweet berries twice a year.
By planting everbearing varieties, you can extend your harvest season and enjoy delicious berries twice or even three times a year. Overall, everbearing strawberries are a great choice for home gardeners who want to enjoy fresh, delicious strawberries throughout the growing season.
Day Neutral Strawberries
Day-neutral strawberry varieties are often grown as annuals. The plants establish quickly and start producing fruit within 60 to 90 days after planting, and then continue to produce fruit throughout the growing season as long as temperatures remain between 35 and 85˚F. So you can enjoy a steady supply of strawberries from spring through fall.
Day-neutral varieties tend to produce smaller fruit and have a lower yield than June- and everbearing strawberries, but they often have a milder, sweeter flavor that many people find delicious. They also don’t typically produce runners, which means they require less space making them ideal for close planting and growing in containers.
Some examples of day-neutral strawberry varieties include:
- Albion: This variety produces large, firm fruit with a sweet and tangy flavor from May to August. It’s known for its high yield and disease resistance, making it a popular choice for home gardeners.
- Seascape: This variety is popular for its large, sweet, bright red fruit. They continue to flower and fruit throughout the growing season and have good resistance to many common strawberry diseases and pests.
- Tristar: This popular variety produces small to medium-sized fruit with a sweet and juicy flavor. The plants are known for their high yield, producing fruit in spring and fall.
If you love strawberries and want a continual supply of fresh berries, plant some of all three types in your home garden.
If you’re looking for a big harvest of strawberries all at once, then June-bearing varieties are a great choice. While the overall yield of everbearing and day-neutral strawberries may not be as large as the June-bearing varieties, they do offer the advantage of a longer harvest season. This means that you can enjoy fresh strawberries over a more extended period of time, rather than all at once.
When choosing a variety of strawberries to grow, also consider factors such as your local climate, available space, and personal taste preferences. No matter which type of strawberry you choose, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, fresh fruit all season long with a little care and attention.
How Do Strawberries Grow?
Strawberries are perennial plants that have a typical lifecycle of about three years. They begin as seeds, which sprout into tiny plants that grow into mature plants capable of producing fruit.
In their first year, strawberry plants establish themselves with a strong root system and develop a crown that will produce leaves, flowers, and runners. The plants can produce some fruit in their first year, but it is recommended that the buds be pinched off to encourage root, foliage, and the growth of runners—especially June-bearing varieties.
If you pinched off all the buds, the plants will produce their first fruit in the second year. This is when June-bearing varieties will produce their large crop, while everbearing and day-neutral varieties will produce a steady supply of fruit throughout the growing season. After the plants finish fruiting, they will also grow runners that can be used to propagate new plants.
The plants will continue producing fruit in the third year, but the yield will decline. Therefore, replacing the plants after three years is recommended to maintain high yield and fruit quality.
In the fall, the plants will go dormant for the winter and begin growing again in the spring, starting the cycle anew. With proper care and maintenance, strawberry plants can continue to produce fruit for several years.
Tips for Growing Strawberries
Most strawberries that we are familiar with are hybrid varieties that are planted either from bare root plants or transplants from a garden center.
Bare-root strawberry plants are dormant plants sold in bundles without soil or a container, making them easier to handle and ship. Bare root plants are typically sold online from mail-order nurseries and shipped to you based on your estimated planting time. Planting strawberries from bare-root plants has several benefits.
- Bare root plants are less expensive than potted plants, making them a budget-friendly option.
- Planting bare-root plants allows you to choose from a wider variety of cultivars.
- Bare root plants are ready to start growing as soon as they are planted.
Strawberry seedlings can be purchased in pots or flats at your local plant nursery just as you would other garden transplants. While more expensive, strawberry transplants can be a convenient and reliable way to start a successful crop:
- Local garden centers often offer varieties that thrive in your growing location, eliminating the guesswork of choosing specific cultivars that best your area.
- Seedlings have an established root system, which means they will likely survive transplanting and establish themselves in the garden quickly.
- Because seedlings are more mature than bare-root plants, they may start producing fruit earlier in the growing season.
While you can grow strawberries from seed, it can be difficult to find seeds, challenging to grow, and take longer to produce fruit. So for this growing guide, we will focus on growing strawberries from bare-root plants and seedlings, which you can find online and at your local garden centers.
Growing Site Selection and Prep
Strawberry plants require full sun or at least 6 to 10 hours of direct sunlight each day, so choose a sunny spot in your garden. Avoid planting strawberries in areas prone to standing water or where tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants have grown in the past three years, as these crops share diseases with strawberries. You can learn more about crop rotation in this article: Benefits of Crop Rotation in Home Gardens.
Although strawberries can grow in almost any type of soil, they thrive in loamy soil that drains well, with a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Strawberries are also heavy feeders and require a good amount of nutrients to produce a bountiful crop.
Before planting, prepare the soil by removing weeds, work in about two inches of finished compost or aged manure into the soil, and some slow-release granule fertilizer, such as Espoma Organic Berry-Tone or Garden-Tone, to improve its structure and fertility.
How to Plant Bare Root Strawberries
Bare-root strawberries should be planted in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked and after the danger of heavy frost is past. If you are ordering bare-root strawberries, be sure to prepare your growing area ahead of time so the plants can be planted as soon as they arrive:
- Separate the bundle of plants and soak the roots in water for a few hours before planting to hydrate them and wake them up from their dormant state. You can also trim the roots to about 4 to 5 inches to make them more manageable.
- Dig a shallow hole about 4 inches deep and 12 inches wide to accommodate the roots. Then mound up the soil in the middle.
- Position the plant so the crown is at the soil level. The crown is the section of the plant where the roots meet the stem.
- Fan the roots out around the crown, and cover them with soil.
- After planting, firm the soil around each plant and water thoroughly.
- Double-check that the crown is at soil level but be sure all the roots are covered. The plant may not grow healthy if the crown is too deep or shallow.
For June-bearing strawberry plants, space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in rows that are 24 to 36 inches apart. This will give the runners plenty of room to spread out for next year’s crop.
Everbearing and day-neutral plants send out fewer runners, so they can be planted closer together. Set your plants about 10 to 14 inches apart in rows spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart, depending on the variety.
Once the plants have been in the ground for a few weeks and have established their roots, they can withstand light frosts without any protection. However, if a hard frost or freeze is expected, it is a good idea to cover the plants with a frost cloth or straw to protect them. See How to Protect Plants from Unexpected Frost for more ideas.
How to Transplant Seedlings
Transplant strawberry seedlings in early spring when the weather is cool. If you purchased your strawberry seedlings from a warm greenhouse, they should be hardened off before planting. Hardening off is the process of gradually adapting plants grown in a protected environment to outdoor conditions before they are planted outside. Learn How to Harden Off Seedlings with this article.
Once the seedlings are hardened off, they can be safely planted outside. Prepare the garden ahead of time, and if the weather has been dry, make sure the soil is moist before transplanting. Then follow these steps to transplant your strawberry seedlings:
- Choose an overcast day to transplant your strawberry seedlings to help them adapt without the challenge of the sun.
- Water the containers well before transplanting to ensure the soil is moist and the roots are well hydrated.
- Dig a hole that is deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots of the seedling.
- Gently remove the seedlings from their containers, being careful not to damage the roots.
- Place the seedling in the hole with the crown (the point where the roots meet the stem) at the soil level.
- Fill the hole and gently firm the soil around the roots. Double-check to make sure the crown is not covered.
- Water the newly transplanted seedlings thoroughly to help settle the soil around the roots.
Follow the spacing requirements for the strawberry variety you are growing and transplant the remaining plants. Generally, space June-bearing strawberry plants 12 to 18 inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart, and everbearing and day-neutral plants about 10 to 14 inches apart in rows spaced approximately 18 to 24 inches apart, depending on the variety.
How to Plant Strawberries in Pots
Containers and strawberry towers are perfect for growing strawberries, as they provide good drainage and can be filled with nutrient-rich soil.
When growing strawberries in containers, select a pot that is at least 8 to 10 inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the size of the plant. You can learn more about growing crops in pots in this article: How to Grow a Container Vegetable Garden.
Fill the pot with a high-quality potting mix. You can create your own potting mix by combining three parts potting soil and 1 part aged manure or compost. This will make a nutrient-rich soil mix ideal for growing healthy strawberries. Water well and let the soil soak up water until it is evenly moist but not soggy.
Plant the strawberries about 8 to 10 inches apart, making sure the crown is at the soil level. Water the plants thoroughly after planting and keep the soil evenly moist. Let the newly planted strawberries adapt in a sheltered, partially shady spot, and then place the pot in a sunny location, ideally receiving at least 6 to 10 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Growing New Strawberry Plants From Runners
Replanting strawberry runners is a great way to propagate new plants and expand your strawberry patch.
The best time to replant runner plants is in the late summer or early fall after the main fruiting season has ended. This allows the runners to become established before winter and produce a full crop of strawberries the following year.
Here’s how to do it:
- Identify healthy runners: Look for healthy runners with developed roots.
- Prepare the soil: Choose a sunny area in your garden with well-draining soil. Add compost or other organic matter to the soil to improve its fertility.
- Dig a small hole: Use a trowel to dig a small hole in the soil where you want to plant the runner.
- Cut the runner: Use a clean pair of scissors or garden shears to cut the runner from the parent plant, leaving a small section of the runner attached to the parent plant.
- Plant the runner: Place the runner in the small hole you dug and gently press the soil around it to secure it in place. Make sure the roots are covered with soil and the runner is firmly anchored in the ground.
- Water well: Water the newly planted runner well to help it establish itself in the soil.
You can easily expand your strawberry patch by replanting runners eliminating the need to buy new plants. It’s also a great way to ensure a healthy supply of delicious homegrown strawberries for years. The new plants should produce fruit in their second year, depending on the variety.
How to Care for Strawberries
Monitor your newly planted strawberry plants closely during the first few weeks after transplanting to ensure they are adjusting well to their new home. Water frequently until the plants become established, and give the plants a boost by feeding with liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, if the plants are struggling.
Water strawberries deeply once or twice a week and more often during hot, dry weather. Mulch around the plants with straw, pine needles, or leaves to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Fertilize the plants with a balanced fertilizer once a month during the growing season. Pinch off runners as they appear, as they divert energy from fruit production. Harvest ripe berries regularly to encourage more fruit production.
After planting, carefully apply a layer of mulch on the soil, but keep the mulch several inches from the crowns of the plants to prevent rotting.
Mulching the plants with straw or shredded leaves will help keep the soil moist, suppress weeds, regulate soil temperature, and protect the fruit from soil-borne diseases. Learn more about how organic mulch helps your garden.
Strawberry plants have shallow roots, so it is important that they receive moisture regularly, especially during hot and dry weather. Provide supplemental watering if needed, so the plants receive about 1 to 2 inches of water per week.
Ensure the soil is moist but not waterlogged, as too much water can cause root rot. Water at the base of the plants or use soaker hoses to avoid foliar diseases. Watering in the early morning is best to allow the foliage to dry before nightfall.
Strawberry plants are heavy feeders and require regular fertilization. You can use an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or a balanced liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
If you amended your soil with compost and a slow-release fertilizer at planting time, your strawberries are off to a great start and should not need additional fertilizer until the plants bloom.
However, if you find your plants struggling initially, you can water them with a balanced liquid organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion, seaweed extract, or compost tea to give them a boost. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates and frequency.
Once the plants begin to flower, apply fertilizer as needed during the growing season. Stop fertilizing once the berries form, and begin again after harvest to encourage healthy runners to develop for next year’s fruit. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package, and take care not to over-fertilize..
Pruning helps to keep the plants healthy and productive. Remove all flowers from June-bearing strawberries in their first year to allow the plants to develop a strong root system and vegetative growth.
Also, prune off any blossoms and early runners that sprout within the first 4 to 6 weeks while ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberry plants are becoming established.
After the fruiting season, remove any old foliage that looks rough or damaged, leaving only healthy young leaves. This will help the plant focus on producing new runners and fruit.
Even after the plants are established, manage the number of runners that grow from the mother plant by pruning them so there are only 3 to 4 runners per healthy plant.
After the first hard frost, cut the leaves back to 1 inch above the crowns. This will help to prevent overwintering pests and diseases.
Watch for Pests and Diseases
Strawberry plants can attract birds, chipmunks, and other animals that may eat the berries before you get a chance to harvest them. To protect your plants, you can cover them with bird netting or mesh to prevent animals from accessing the plants.
In addition, strawberries are susceptible to various pests and diseases. Inspect the plants regularly, and immediately remove any affected leaves or fruit. Here are some common pests and diseases and ways to deal with them:
- Spider mites: These are tiny pests that suck the juices from leaves, causing them to turn yellow and dry out. You can use an insecticidal soap spray or neem oil to control spider mites.
- Aphids: Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the underside of leaves and can cause the leaves to curl and distort. You can use a strong jet of water or insecticidal soap spray to control aphids.
- Slugs and snails: These pests can cause damage to the fruit and leaves. You can control them by using a barrier of diatomaceous earth around the plants or by handpicking them.
- Gray mold: This is a fungal disease that can cause fruit rot. To prevent gray mold, keep the plants dry, remove any infected plant material, and improve air circulation around the plants.
- Powdery mildew: This fungal disease can cause a white powdery coating on the leaves. You can prevent powdery mildew by keeping the plants dry and improving air circulation. You can also use a baking soda spray or neem oil to control powdery mildew.
- Verticillium wilt: This is a fungal disease that can cause wilting, yellowing, and stunted plant growth. There is no cure for verticillium wilt, so the best way to prevent it is to plant resistant varieties, practice good soil management, such as crop rotation, and avoid planting in areas with a history of the disease.
- Root rot: This is a fungal disease that can cause the roots to rot, leading to plant death. To prevent root rot, make sure the soil is well-draining, avoid overwatering, and improve soil health with organic matter.
Overall, practicing good garden hygiene, crop rotation, and providing the plants with the proper growing conditions can help prevent pest and disease problems in strawberries.
The best way to prepare strawberry plants for winter depends on your climate and the type of strawberry plants you have. However, here are some general steps you can follow:
- Stop fertilizing: Stop fertilizing your strawberry plants in late summer or early fall to allow the plants to wind down for winter.
- Watering: In the fall, regularly water your plants, especially in the dry season. Adequate water will help the plants prepare for winter.
- Pruning: Cut the leaves back to 1 inch above the crowns after the first hard frost. This will help to prevent overwintering pests and diseases.
- Mulching: Once the ground is frozen, cover the strawberry plants with a 2 to 4-inch layer of straw or other organic mulch to insulate the roots from the cold winter temperatures. This will also help prevent frost heaving, damaging the plants. Avoid adding mulch before the ground is frozen, as this can insulate the bed and delay the plants from going dormant naturally.
- Covering: In areas with severe winter weather, you may want to cover your plants with row covers, burlap, or blankets to protect them from cold winds and freezing temperatures. Remember to remove the winter protection in early spring when the weather starts to warm up.
When and How to Harvest
Strawberries should be harvested when they are fully ripe. This usually occurs about 4 to 6 weeks after the plants begin to bloom. The berry should be firm when gathering. If it has become a little overripe and mushy, it’s still good. Use overripe berries in smoothies, ice cream, or for making jelly.
Hold the stem above the berry to harvest and twist gently to remove the fruit from the plant. Alternatively, you can use a pair of scissors or pruning shears to snip the stem.
Harvest strawberries every 2 to 3 days during the peak season to ensure you don’t miss any ripe berries. Be gentle when handling the strawberries to avoid damaging them and piling them too high in containers to prevent squishing and bruising.
To store strawberries, keep them in a single layer in the refrigerator and use them within 2 to 3 days for optimal freshness, or preserve them for longer storage.
Preserving strawberries is a great way to enjoy their delicious flavor even when they are out of season. The easiest way to preserve strawberries is to freeze them. To freeze strawberries, follow these steps:
- Choose ripe, firm, and unblemished strawberries. Wash them gently in cold water and let them dry completely.
- Remove the green tops and any remaining stems. You can use a paring knife or a strawberry huller to do this.
- You can cut the strawberries in half or slice them if they are large. This will help them freeze more evenly and make them easier to use later.
- Place the prepared strawberries in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Make sure they are not touching each other.
- Put the baking sheet in the freezer and let the strawberries freeze for about 2 to 3 hours or until they are firm.
- Once the strawberries are frozen, transfer them to an airtight container or a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Label the container or bag with the date and store it in the freezer for 8 to 10 months.
That’s it! Now you can enjoy your frozen strawberries in smoothies, desserts, or as a tasty snack.
Low Sugar Strawberry Jam Recipe
This easy strawberry jam recipe is a perfect way to preserve the sweet and vibrant flavors of ripe strawberries when they are in season. With its low sugar content, this recipe allows the natural sweetness of the fruit to shine through.
Whether you whip up a single batch for immediate enjoyment, or make multiple batches to stock your pantry and for gift giving, this homemade strawberry preserves is sure to become a favorite. Get the recipe: Low Sugar Strawberry Jam Recipe.
Growing strawberries can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for gardeners of all levels. With proper care and attention, your strawberry plants can produce an abundance of delicious and nutritious berries year after year. Feel free to experiment with different varieties, planting techniques, and preservation methods to find what work best for you. And above all, enjoy the sweet rewards of your hard work and dedication to growing your own strawberries.
Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden
Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.