Nothing says summer like strawberries. Imagine melt-in-your mouth strawberries for your summer desserts. Or just picked as you garden for a tasty delight on the go.
Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) are delicious summer favourites of children and adults alike. However, they are not actual berries. Unlike berries, these unique fruits wear their seeds on the outside. Strawberries are accessory fruit; therefore, the bulk of what we consume is actually the receptacle, with the seeds on the outside being the actual fruit.
Why not try planting strawberries in your own garden? This article will explain the ins and outs of planting strawberries and give you tips on how to grow strawberries for a sure-fire crop of luscious summer treats.
Planting strawberries: location and soil
Strawberries aren’t fussy plants but they do have some preferences. You can grow strawberries in partial or full sun—more sun means more berries and better taste. Strawberries can be grown in your garden plot, in a greenhouse or on the balcony or terrace in pots.
The best soil for strawberries has plenty of organic matter and is loose, nutrient-rich, and drains well. To improve the soil in your garden, or to use as a potting media, look no further than our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. It is the best compost for strawberries as it is well-stocked with all the nutrients required to keep your strawberry plants healthy and growing vigorously.
You can increase the drainage of your soil by adding in perlite or expanded clay, because while strawberries prefer moist soil, they will not tolerate waterlogging.
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In your garden, you can have success growing strawberries in raised beds; alternatively, you can plant them on small mounds or windrows. This provides multiple benefits including ease of maintenance. Also, small mounds have warmer soil temperatures in the spring and improved air circulation.
Air circulation through the plants is very important to prevent fungal diseases like grey mould (Botrytis cinerea). Because of their susceptibility to fungal diseases and pests, strawberries should not be grown in the same location for more than 3 years in a row. Harvest yields decrease with time, so usually after 2 to 3 years of growing, your plants should be replaced with new fresh specimens.
Strawberries can be grown in a pot on your balcony or terrace, or in containers in a greenhouse. When growing strawberries in containers, be sure to keep the soil moist, but make sure the container drains well, as waterlogging is not tolerated.
If you have a bright, sunny balcony, or a greenhouse in the full sun, your plants may struggle in the hotter temperatures during the summer. Ensure that the plants have sufficient nutrients by fertilising regularly during the growing season, but don’t overdo it, as strawberries are sensitive to excessive salts.
Choosing the correct fertiliser is important, as too much nitrogen will promote a flush of leaves instead of the flowers required to produce fruit. Therefore, using a fertiliser like our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food is recommended. This liquid fertiliser supplies all the nutrients required for flower and root growth without excessive nitrogen.
Tip: When growing strawberries in a greenhouse, you may need to hand-pollinate the flowers. Many greenhouses restrict insects from entering, and this could include beneficial insects as well as pollinators like honey bees and bumblebees. Reduced insect pollinator populations will provide insufficient pollination, which yields fruit that is misshapen and small. To hand-pollinate your strawberry flowers, take a small paint brush and gently move it around the centre of the flowers; this spreads and distributes the pollen.
When to plant strawberries
When to plant strawberries depends on when you want to harvest. Technically you can plant strawberries any time after the risk of frost has passed, all the way through August. However, if they are planted in the late summer or early autumn, the plants will benefit from the additional time to grow, expand, and strengthen their root systems in order to be ready to grow and fruit the following summer. This method will produce the best fruit. Just make sure your plants are in the ground by the first week in September to ensure they are strong enough to survive the winter.
Some varieties of strawberry plants, either bare-root or potted, can still bear fruit in the summer when planted in the early spring. Bare-root strawberry plants should be planted out after the risk of frost has passed, or conversely, in late August, before the first frost. Plants grown in pots can be planted out anytime from April to August.
You can plant strawberry seeds in winter, indoors in December or January and then plant them out when they have at least 3 sets of leaves, any time after the last frost for your area.
Growing strawberries: what method is best?
Strawberries are one of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. There are many different methods that can be used for growing strawberries.
The best way to grow strawberries involves growing them on top of mounds or windrows, or in raised beds, as this helps to ensure the plants aren’t waterlogged. As with commercial cultivation, growing strawberries in mounded rows will produce abundant harvests.
Depending on your available space, you can plant 1 to 3 rows of plants per mound. Allow at least 25 to 30 cm of space between plants.
If you plant only one row on your mound, make your mound at least 50 cm wide. If you have the space, create a mounded row that is 1.5 m wide, and into this you can plant 3 rows of plants with 40 to 50 cm between rows and 10 to 20 cm from the edge of the mound to the first row.
As you plant the rows, counterspace the plants so they don’t line up together between the rows. For cleaning and maintenance, make sure you can reach and access the middle of the mound from either edge.
To keep pests and mould levels at a minimum, mulch your strawberry plants. Various products will do the job, from weed suppressing fabric to polyethylene sheets, as well as natural mulches like straw and conifer needles.
It is also important to fertilise your growing strawberries. Apply fertiliser when young leaves appear, and then again after fruit have been collected. Use a high quality, long-lasting, natural fertiliser like our Plantura Tomato Food which will provide a steady, constant supply of nutrients to help your plants grow and thrive. As mentioned earlier, be sure you rotate your growing location every 3 to 4 years to avoid the build-up of pests and diseases.
Tip: If you want your strawberries to taste more like the power-packed wild variety, mulch with pure pine needles, spruce needles, or mix them with straw. Make sure you fertilise with some nitrogen to balance out the excess carbon from your mulching materials.
Growing strawberries from seed
Growing strawberries from seed is easy, albeit a much longer process than just buying a plant or creating new plants from runners. Plants grown from seed may take a year or more before producing a decent crop. For more on how to grow strawberries from seeds, read our in-depth article on propagating strawberries. Still, even with the long-term time investment, growing strawberries from seed is a fun project for children, or for an adventurous – and patient – gardener.
- The first step is to stratify the seeds; they need the chilling in order to germinate. Put them in your freezer at no colder than -1 °C for 2 to 4 weeks.
- Once that’s done, you can plant them into soil.
- Sow them thinly over the top of already moist 1:1 mix of sand and quality potting compost, then gently cover with a sprinkling of soil.
- Set your growing trays in a sunny place. Cover your trays with transparent cloches to maintain high levels of humidity, but ventilate daily so the air doesn’t stagnate.
- Keep them moist and warm between 15 and 20 °C; they will take anywhere from one to six weeks to germinate.
- When the plants have produced 3 sets of leaves you can pot them on, but don’t forget to harden them off slowly to colder temperatures and direct sunlight before planting outside.
Planting bare root strawberries
The planting of bare root strawberries should either be done in early spring after the last frost or in early autumn. Plant them deep enough to cover their roots, but still with the tip of the crown sticking out of the soil. Water them in, and that is pretty much it! Keep them moist, and in a few weeks’ time, you will see new leaves unfurling.
How to plant strawberry runners
Nothing is as easy as planting strawberry runners! Starting from roughly July, all the way into autumn, the plants will send out runners, which you can then gently press into the soil to create more plants.
When propagating strawberry runners, choose those growing from healthy plants that taste great and/ or are heavy producers. While keeping them attached to the original plant, bury the runners under the soil in your garden or in a small pot. Be sure to leave the runner connected to the original plant for a few weeks until the new plant has had time to establish strong enough roots of its own. For more information on how to plant strawberry runners, read our detailed article on propagating strawberries.
Tip: It is important to trim out excessive runner growth in your strawberry beds. This helps to keep your planting densities low enough to allow for ample air circulation. Also, if your plants are producing excessive runners, they aren’t putting their energy towards fruiting. Trim out these runners to encourage flowering and fruit development.
The best companion plants for strawberries
There are definite benefits to growing strawberry companion plants. Companion plants help your focus plants grow by enriching the soil, deterring pests, creating a niche microclimate, and encouraging root growth in the soil.
Some examples of beneficial strawberry companion plants are:
- Bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), for example oak leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa)
- Lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella)
- Lupines (Lupinus spp.)
- Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
- Leek (Allium porrum)
- Onion (Allium cepa)
- Garlic (Allium sativum)
- Radishes (Raphanus sativus var. sativus) and radish (Raphanus sativus var. niger)
While strawberries have many beneficial companion plants, it is important to note that not all plants grow well together. For example, Roses (Rosa spp.), melons (Cucumis spp. and Citrullus lanatus), and brassicas (Brassica spp.) will consume the nutrients in your soil before your strawberries have a chance to. Avoid planting near, or after growing nightshades like tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), as well as chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum spp.) as they are all susceptible to verticillium wilt which can spread to strawberries.
Wild varieties of strawberries tend to be smaller in size, but are packed with flavour. For more information, read our article on the sowing and care of wild strawberry varieties.