You Can Grow Strawberries
By Steven Biggs
Gardener, Garden Writer, Garden Coach, Horticulturist
It’s rare to have an imported, store-bought strawberry taste as good as a freshly picked strawberry.
It’s not that strawberry growers in other areas don’t know their craft. They probably do. It’s because of when they pick the fruit: It’s picked before reaching optimal ripeness.
When you grow strawberries in your garden, you pick them when they are perfectly ripe.
They are so perfectly ripe that the smell of the patch draws you from across the yard.
That’s why I grow my own. You can too.
- Get some plants. Sure, you can buy plants. Better still, find a friend or neighbour with strawberry plants. You’ll be doing the favour. A strawberry patch generates lots of new plants, too many for its own good.
- There are two types of plants: Regular plants fruit in the early summer. Everbearing ones fruit in the early summer, then again in the fall. You get less fruit from the combined summer and fall crops of an everbearing patch than you would from a regular one—but it’s nice to have strawberries in September.
- Pick a spot. My patch started as a two-foot-wide row about 20 feet long, but it’s moved to a horseshoe-shaped bed between my rhubarb and asparagus. Why? Best to make new strawberry beds after a few years. And that’s where I had space.
- Prepare your soil. Strawberry plants like well-drained soil. This means you should dig in lots of organic matter like compost or peat moss. A raised bed is a good option if your soil stays wet as strawberries don’t like having wet feet.
- Simplify spacing. Many books give specific measurements for row and plant spacing. This is fine if you’re market gardening. But we’re not. My rule is about one foot between plants.
- Weed and thin. Strawberry plants are most productive when they’re not overcrowded. That means minimizing competition from weeds. And it means minimizing competition from other strawberry plants too.
- Keep a few runners, remove the rest. Strawberry plants send out runners, shoots that trail along the ground and form new plants. They start to grow after fruiting has finished in early summer. Runners are great because they fill in your bed and give you a constant supply of new plants. But...they choke out your patch if you’re not careful.
- Move the runners. Lift them, move them, then put a rock over them to encourage them to grow where you think you need an additional plant. Rule of thumb: Avoid allowing plants to grow any closer than about six inches apart.
- Don’t forget the water. Good fruit formation and growth require that you supply adequate water from bloom time to the end of harvest. Rule of thumb: If it’s very hot and dry, water the patch well a couple times per week.
- Don’t forget next year. Flower bud formation for the following year occurs in late summer. Happy plants will make more flower buds for next year. So keep weeds under control, thin out your patch, and give it the occasional drink of water.
- Pick them when they’re red. There’s no point saying any more: You’ll figure out when best to pick your strawberries after tasting a few.
- It’s never enough. I love strawberries so I usually eat everything from my patch. Then I venture out to a pick-your-own farm for more strawberries for the freezer.
- Mulch your strawberry bed. I cover the bed with straw in the late fall, after several lights frosts. By then the plants are dormant. The straw helps to protect the plants over the winter. Use at least a couple inches of straw. In the spring, remove the straw once signs of new leaf growth appear. Any straw remaining in the bed helps to keep fruit off the soil.
- Word of caution: Don’t apply the mulch too early in the fall, or remove it too late in the spring. Otherwise you can cook your plants.
Pests, Diseases, and Disorders
- Rabbits like strawberry flowers. We had a rabbit invasion a couple years ago. I didn’t realize until too late that rabbits enjoy eating strawberry flowers... My solution, the same as the rest of my veggie garden, has been a rabbit-proof fence.
- Birds like strawberries too. Unless you plan to place a net over your patch, be prepared to share a few berries with the birds.
- Squirrels annoy me the most, because they leave part of the berry uneaten—and because they also eat my tomatoes. Sorry, I’ve nothing to suggest.
- Slugs eat a small hole in the fruit. You can usually find a happy slug nested inside. This is more of a problem in wet years. I wash off the slug and eat the berry.
- Tarnished plant bugs are the coppery-brown beetles amongst your plants. They cause some fruit to abort. I get a few, but have never had so many that there’s been a major loss.
Try some grated orange rind in your next strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Want to know more about growing strawberries? Check back as this site will be growing. Better still, drop me a line. I’ll be glad to hear about your gardening experience and what you would find useful on this site.
Learn about 3 other easy fruit crops.
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Practical, no-nonsense advice for the edible garden.
Gardener, Garden Writer,
Garden Coach, Horticulturist
with timely tips on growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs.
- What’s in season
- What to do next
- Cooking garden produce
- Common questions
- Kid-friendly gardening
- Upcoming gardening events
ZESTFUL, FUN, INFORMATION-PACKED, OPINIONATED—even slightly irreverent—this graphic-novel-meets-gardening-book empowers readers to make their own decisions in the vegetable garden because the authors, two garden coaches, talk frankly about issues…and don’t always agree.
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