Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
While strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) consumers want flavor, size and juiciness, growers want reliably resilient strawberry plants that are abundant producers.
There are three strawberry plant categories: day-neutral, June-bearing, and everbearing. These cross between F. virginiana and F. chiloensis and need full sun and slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Seventy-five percent of the strawberry plant’s root system is in the top three inches.
Why Plant Strawberries?
The strawberry is one of the backyard garden’s most widely grown small fruit. These pretty plants are simple to cultivate, can be grown in containers, and are generally the year’s first producers.
Planting strawberries in a 10-by-4-foot (3 x 1.2 m), strawberry bed could yield between 12 and 19 pounds (5.4 to 8.6 kg) of fruit annually—from a single bed. All they require is some basic care.
This post definitively answers the how-to-grow strawberries question. We look at how to choose the right plants, plant them, take care of them, and ensure you have a bumper crop.
Where the scope of a strawberry-related topic is beyond this beginner’s guide to strawberry growing, I link you to related articles that cover everything from better harvest, pests and diseases and how to grow strawberries organically.
If temperatures permit and you take the necessary precautions, your plants will survive winter and emerge ready to produce an early summer harvest. Even if you grow annual varieties (in the colder north), you’ll learn how to grow strawberries in abundance.
It all depends on the strawberry plant you’re growing – which leads me first to consider growing strawberries. Of all the strawberry varieties, which should I plant?
As mentioned earlier, there are three main categories of strawberry plants:
- Day-neutral plants will produce fruit most of the growing season (if temperatures permit).
- June-bearing strawberries have a narrow window to harvest berries, but they produce an abundant crop in mid-June to early July. Plant strawberries in early spring.
- Everbearing types produce two crops, the first in early summer and the second in early fall. This plant is not an option for colder regions.
USDA Zone 3 strawberry plants need additional cover to survive the cold extremes. The hardiest strawberry cultivars can be ordered online as rootstock.
How to Grow Strawberries
Let’s dive into getting that strawberry patch of yours flourishing. As mentioned, some topics (like The Ultimate Guide to Pest and Disease Control in Strawberry Gardening) are too broad to fit into a how-to-grow strawberries post and are covered separately.
Let’s get to the juicy bits of how to grow strawberries.
Choosing Your Strawberry Variety
Search the internet, and there are hundreds of articles on how to grow strawberries, but only some provide insights into why you should opt for a specific growing format or plant category.
There’s a gap, and this article fills it. So, let’s get down to brass tacks:
- As mentioned, there are three strawberry categories. The everbearing strawberry plants are limited to specific climates and are covered in a separate post.
- Starter plants for commercial growers are produced in the north of North America, where Anthracnose is less of a challenge.
- Perennial crops have challenges, including bed maintenance (renovation) and an increased risk of diseases. The benefits are increased production the older the plant gets and the benefits of chill hours on rootstock.
- Annual crops (annual row, day-neutral) are more disease resistant and produce well (and seasonally longer) but aren’t the best for making a baseball-sized strawberry.
Making general recommendations on which types of strawberries you should plant when growing strawberries is difficult, as the acceptability of a given strawberry variety depends upon soil type, local climate, and personal taste.
The lists below offer some information on popular varieties that have done well under various conditions for growing strawberries: I have split the strawberries into June-bearing and day-neutral.
Allstar is an excellent choice for midseason fruit because the plants are more heat tolerant and resistant to root rot, powdery mildew, and Verticillium wilt. Allstar produces large, delicious berries.
Chandler is an early midseason California cultivar with juicy berries and high yields. The plant is robust and adapts well to most environments. The fruit is resistant to gray mold fruit rot.
Earliglow is one of the earliest fruiting types and is widely regarded as the gold standard for flavor. Secondary blossom fruit size is below average.
Honeoye is the most popular home variety in the United States but needs a thoroughly composted bed and cool temperatures. This variety is Because of its enormous yields of large fruit that mature in early midseason,
Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are tiny strawberries with a sweet, wild-strawberry flavor. Alpine and woodland berries are not bred for size like grocery-store fruit but offer sweet fruits and a few berries a week. They do not do well in warm climates.
Evie 2 is a strawberry imported from England and produces medium-large, sweet strawberries. Evie 2 is more productive and heat tolerant than other day neutrals.
Tribute is a popular strawberry in the Eastern United States that is strong and productive and is resistant to gray mold fruit rot, Verticillium wilt, and red stele root rot. The fruit is modest in size and is quite delicious.
Whatever type of strawberry you choose for growing strawberries, start with certified disease- and virus-free plants from a reputable nursery.
Selecting And Preparing a Strawberry Planting Site
You should choose and prepare your planting spot before purchasing your plants. Strawberries do best in full sun, although they may take little shade. An essential aspect is slightly acidic soil.
If the native soil is naturally alkaline, add some sulfur or sphagnum peat moss to boost acidity to 5.5 to 6.9.
Soil preparations are closely linked to your plant choice and the planting system used. All strawberry beds are raised to avoid frost, optimize drainage, and better control soil temperatures to minimize disease risks.
Strawberries do fabulously in containers and hanging baskets as well. An important health factor is the addition of aged compost to any potting soil or garden bed. Strawberries prefer slightly acidic soil.
A sandy loam with at least 3 to 4% carbon content is ideal for strawberry cultivation. Rich compost is one of the secrets of growing strawberries, boosting cation exchange capacity and helping keep the soil moist.
Strawberries grow best in sandier soil with lower nitrogen levels, as high fertility may lead to several diseases and more foliage with less fruit—it’s all about timing. Try and avoid clay soil.
You want to grow strawberries in the absence of weed challenges. Grass can quickly take over a strawberry bed, so use organic mulch to eliminate grass growth from early on. Remove weeds as they emerge.
Deciding On a Strawberry Planting System
Strawberry plants create daughter plants from stolon runners. Matted row and annual hill are two approaches for home gardeners to grow different types of strawberries, but each requires different management approaches.
The annual hill system improves weed and disease management, fruit size, and quality and is generally used for day-neutral strawberry plants.
The matted row is generally used for perennials and requires annual renovation—a mowing of the bed followed by pre-autumn growth stimulation.
Of course, there’s a third option—growing strawberries in containers. Planters, large containers with gaps on the side, are a novel way of planting strawberries and are aesthetically pleasing.
There are several novel fruit production systems for planting strawberries. Ensure the container mix has ample organic matter, excluding rotted manure that may contain weeds or latent herbicides.
The Annual Hill Strawberry Planting System
Everbearing, day-neutral, and June-bearing varieties can be grown annually in a hill system. Grow strawberries 12 to 15 inches apart (30 to 38 cm) in staggered rows with 2 to 4 rows per bed, ensuring fresh air circulation between plants.
Only mother plants develop and yield fruit. Plastic mulch can prevent weeds and provide a clean surface for fruit development since there are no daughter plants to root down.
Only in the matted row system (below) is the mother plant culled to allow new annual growth from daughter plants. Daughter plants that grow on the stolon produce baby plants.
Growing Strawberries in Raised Beds
Beds are raised, and watering is done by drip irrigation or soaker hoses to avoid getting the leaves wet, which increases the likelihood of pathogens spreading. Keep the soil moist, but don’t use an overhead sprayer system to water plants.
Planting Strawberry Plants
Spring-plant dormant bare-root day-neutrals. Remove the first blossom clusters to limit growing fruit before the plants are sufficiently established to support proper fruit development.
After the June-bearers finish, the day-neutral varieties should start yielding fruit. June-bearers typically produce more fruit but over a shorter time—mid-June to early July.
The ideal planting time for this annual hill system offers the most yields and largest fruit size. This arrangement suits Allstar and Chandler varieties.
Early planting allows 3 to 5 crowns per plant, whereas late planting prevents runner formation.
Raised beds and plastic mulch warm the soil in spring, causing it to blossom, while winter pine straw mulch and spring frost covers should protect plants.
The Matted Row Strawberry Growing System
June-bearers generally use the matted row growing system. Grow strawberries in early spring using bare-root dormant plants. Since plants are dormant, spring frost doesn’t matter.
Strawberry Mother and Daughters
Plant strawberry dormant rootstock 18 to 24 inches apart (45 to 60 cm) in rows 3 to 4 feet apart (91 to 121 cm). Remove all the blossoms throughout the first growing season to encourage the development of runners’ and daughter plants.
During this time, keep the soil moist and the top open to encourage daughter plants to root and form a continuous “mat” in the row.
Remove weeds and strawberry plants between rows. Plants won’t bear fruit if there’s excessive competition in the matted row. For optimal yield and fruit size, keep rows 8 to 10 inches wide (ideally) or a bit wider if need be.
How to Grow Strawberries in Winter
These are perennial plants producing fruit in mid-June to early July. They require winter protection in colder regions—both crown and root protection. Use clean straw or shredded dead leaves about 6 inches deep. This should be done in late fall.
Remove the mulch when spring crown growth appears, using the winter mulch to cover the space between the rows to control weeds and protect maturing fruit. Be aware that emerging strawberry flowers (early spring) are frost sensitive.
Cover rows with fleece on chilly nights to preserve warm air near the ground and safeguard strawberry blossoms.
Matted (perennial) rows should be renovated shortly after harvest to ensure multi-season productivity once you have mowed the bed to a height of one inch. Water and fertilize the bed to promote daughter plant growth in late summer.
Eliminate any emerging weeds that may compete with the emerging new daughter plants throughout late summer and early fall.
You can grow strawberries as perennials or annuals in containers. Young strawberry plants are shallow-rooted and flourish in strawberry planters and barrels.
Container gardens can be managed like annual hills above or allowed to overwinter for a second year. Irrigate often to keep the roots cool, and avoid dark containers that will heat the roots in summer.
Fertilizing Strawberries Grown in Containers
If you opt for a biennial crop, fertilize new plants with a diluted plant food fertilizer monthly between June and September, increasing the dilution (decreasing fertilizer) in the subsequent years. From year two onwards, fertilize monthly from May to June.
New plants need additional fertilizer to get established, and it is best to remove flower buds in the first year. This improves the development of the central growing bud in subsequent years.
Vertical Strawberry Gardens
Because strawberries are shallow-rooted, they can be quickly grown in large containers filled with well-draining, organically-rich soil. Make tapered slots in the side to create a vertical wall of cascading sweet strawberries.
Harvest strawberries only fully ripe berries, collecting fresh strawberries every other day as the berries ripen. Overripe fruit may develop foul odors and attract insects and infections, so close monitoring is needed.
Remove any deformed berries or those that seem infected to prevent the risk of spreading pathogens during this critical time.
Place ripe fruit in shallow containers no more than three inches deep to avoid bruising or crushing. Pick fruit in the cool morning hours and refrigerate immediately to maximize shelf life.
Just before eating or processing, wash and remove the caps.
There are so many ways to answer the How to grow strawberries question that I’ve decided to write more articles on the topic and create a few vlogs on my YouTube channel.