Strawberries are easy to grow and it is very rewarding too. Often you just find one kind of strawberry, which is ‘Elsanta’. This is a mid-season strawberry that is commercially cultivated and the most common variety that is sold in the supermarkets. This is because it stores well and is less prone to damage than other varieties. However, 'Elsanta' doesn’t taste as good as other varieties of strawberry. Therefore, growing your own will enable you to experiment with other, tastier types.
What’s more, by growing your own, you will eat the strawberries when freshly-picked, enabling you to eat fresher, tastier and more nutritious strawberries than if you buy them commercially.
How To Grow
Strawberries thrive in a well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. It is easiest to grow strawberries from plants brought from the nursery or garden centre. The best time to plant them is in early autumn or in the spring. If you plant them in spring, remove any flower buds from the plants so they concentrate their energy on developing roots and becoming established. Space the plants 40cm (16in) apart in rows 1m (3ft) apart. Water well.
It’s a good idea to mulch around the plants with a thick layer of well-rotted manure, compost or straw (some gardeners grow their plants through black polythene). This impenetrable layer will prevent weeds from growing and competing with the plants. It will also keep the soil moist so you won’t have to water the plants as often, and prevent soil splashing on the fruit.
The strawberry plants will begin to flower from early summer. Once the flower has died down, the fruit will develop. At this stage you will need to protect the young fruits from slug damage or damage from mud. It is a good idea to mulch with straw or tuck handfuls of straw under the fruit trusses to ensure they are not in direct contact with the soil. Once the fruits are ripe (when they are deep red in colour and slightly soft to touch), simply pick them gently off the plant.
After the final fruits have been harvested, cut the remaining foliage down to about 10cm (4in) above the crown to allow new leaves to grow. Clear away and burn any debris from around the plants (including foliage you have removed). This prevents disease from building up around the plants and hampering growth next year. Water the plants thoroughly and apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost to provide nutrients to the soil to feed the plants.
When growing strawberry plants give them plenty of space for good cropping and easy access. Plant them about 35cm (14") apart and in rows spaced about 75cm (30") apart. Dig a hole that is big enough to accommodate the roots of the plant and place it inside. If you’re planting strawberry runners spread the roots out and make sure the crown sits at soil level. Planting too deeply can cause the strawberry plants to rot and planting with the crown too high can cause plants to dry out. Backfill the hole with soil and gently firm down around the plant. Water your strawberry plants thoroughly and make sure you continue to water them well during hot, dry weather.
Growing Strawberries in Containers
Strawberries are very adaptable to container growing. The rule of thumb is the bigger, the better with containers. 16 to 18 inch in diameter containers are great, especially for June bearing varieties. However, since strawberries are shallow rooted, the large container doesn’t have to be completely filled with potting soil.
In winter and in cold areas, move the strawberry containers into a sheltered location such as a garage or basement. You may need to thin out the plantings, especially of the June bearers, the second and each subsequent year to prevent overcrowding. Your strawberries should bear fruit for years.
Protect the fruits
As your strawberry fruits develop there is a risk of them being blemished by soil splash so it’s a good idea to place straw or mulching fabric underneath the plants to prevent damage.
Unfortunately the birds love strawberries as much as we do so make sure you net your strawberry patch securely!
In early summer you may notice runners developing on your plants. These are trailing stems with young strawberry plants along the length. It’s best to remove these as close to the base of the plant as possible to help direct energy into flowering and fruiting, and reduce competition for light and nutrients.
To pick your strawberries, pinch or cut them off with a small amount of stalk attached. This will help preserve them for longer until you’re ready to eat them. Don’t stack them too high in your chosen container or they will be crushed under their own weight. Store unblemished berries in the fridge to prevent mold spoiling the fruits.
Autumn and Spring Care
Clear away dead leaves
After your strawberries have finished cropping, take away any straw and netting to allow better air flow around the plants. In late summer and autumn clear away and fold dead foliage which can harbor pests and diseases.
Mulch and feed
The following spring mulch around your strawberry plants with well-rotted manure or compost. If your soil is poor you can also scatter a slow release fertiliser around the base of the plant.
Problems with growing strawberries
Slugs often chew holes in strawberries just as they begin to ripen. Organic mulches such as straw encourages slugs, so where slugs are a problem, a plastic mulch helps.
In summer several fungal diseases cause dark spots to form on leaves. Clipping or mowing strawberry foliage and raking it away in summer can interrupt the life cycles of some strawberry pests and diseases. By far the worst pests are birds. To keep robins, brown thrashers, and often fruit eaters from stealing your berries, cover the plants with lightweight bird netting when the berries begin to ripen.