Strawberries are a delicious and healthy fruit. They are also quite expensive to buy in the supermarket – not to mention they’re usually on their way out by the time you buy them.
Instead of dealing with store bought strawberries, you should just grow your own outside in your garden. It’s fast and easy to do.
Growing strawberries outside is the best idea because it has many benefits:
– You will be able to enjoy fresh strawberries all year round.
– Seeds and bare-root strawberry plants are cheaper to buy than store bought strawberries.
– You’ll be able to enjoy your strawberries when they taste the best, rather than waiting for them to moulder on the store shelves.
Choosing the Best Variety of Strawberry
The three main types of strawberry you’ll typically find are June bearing strawberries, day neutral, and everbearing.
June bearing is exactly what it sounds like. For a few weeks in late June, the plant will bear a large crop of fruit, and then it will be done for the year.
Everbearing and day neutral varieties are similar in that they produce fruit for a longer period of time than June bearing plants, but they differ in when they produce their fruit. Everbearing plants will produce a few large crops per year between spring and fall (though not as large as June bearing strawberries), and they may produce a few stray fruit in between.
Day neutral strawberries, on the other hand, will start producing fruit in June and will continue producing for around 14 weeks, with production tapering off somewhat after August. Day neutral strawberries have largely replaced everbearing varieties in popularity.
The best June bearing varieties of strawberry include:
- AC Wendy – This is an early season strawberry plant that will start fruiting in late spring. zones 4-8
- Earliglow – A good beginner variety. Produces smaller berries. Also early season. zones 4-8
- Cavendish – A good early-mid season strawberry for colder climates. zones 3-7
- All Star – A good mid season strawberry for beginners to growing strawberries. zones 4-8
If you’re looking for an everbearing strawberry, try one of these:
- Ozark Beauty – An excellent everbearing strawberry for beginners. Large berries and quite disease resistant.
- Quinault – Produces large, soft strawberries that are full of flavor. Susceptible to grey mold, but otherwise disease resistant.
If you want some day neutral strawberries, try these:
- Albion – Excellent flavor, very high productivity, and disease resistance makes this a must-grow variety of strawberry.
- Monterey – Larger but softer strawberry with very good flavor and decent disease resistance (except powdery mildew).
- Seascape – Productive strawberry that requires less chill hours, making it a good choice for warm climates.
How To Prepare & Plant Your Strawberry Bed
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Your strawberry bed should be prepared in fall or early spring, depending on where you live.
In warm climates, you want to plant in fall, when the weather starts cooling down. This will allow your strawberries to grow and fruit before they get killed by the summer heat. In cooler climates, you should plant them in spring, after the ground becomes soft enough to start working.
Amending Your Soil
Healthy soil is the key to a successful garden.
Good soil will not only have the right amount of nutrients and water for your plants, but it will also have a healthy microbiome that breaks down inorganic minerals and makes them available for your plants to use. (And that helps break down organic waste into humus, which is great for plants.)
Strawberries need soil that stays consistently moist, and it’s going to be hard to accomplish that if you don’t have plenty of organic matter in your soil. In this regard, having good soil is probably the most important thing you can do to have a healthy strawberry garden.
Compost is one of the most popular ways to amend your soil for growing strawberries. It not only improves the quality of the soil but it also provides nutrients which are essential for healthy plant growth. Compost is made from organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings that have been left outside to decompose and break down into rich dark brown material.
Compost helps the soil retain water better, which is extremely important to the health of your strawberries. It also helps lower the PH of your soil, which will help your strawberry plants take up nutrients from the soil more efficiently.
When adding compost to your soil, it’s best to use a mix of different types of compost: chicken manure, cow manure, composted forest products, composted leaves, etc. This gives a wide variety of nutrients for your soil.
Another thing you’ll want to add to your garden’s soil is coco coir. Coco coir is a sustainable byproduct of processing coconuts into coconut milk or cream and has many benefits including increasing your soil’s water retention rate. It can also improve drainage in clay soil, which helps reduce the chance of your plants getting root rot.
Coco coir will usually come condensed into blocks that you have to reconstitute by soaking in water.
A good mixture to start with is 1/3 compost, 1/3 coco coir or peat moss, and 1/3 of your local soil. If you’re doing a raised bed, you can replace the 1/3 of your local soil with 1/3 of coarse vermiculite.
Adjusting Your Soil PH
The next thing you need to do is make sure the soil you’re going to be growing your strawberries in is the correct PH for your strawberries. Strawberries need a PH between 5.4 and 6.5.
If your soil’s PH is too high, you’ll end up with plants that struggle and don’t produce as much fruit as they should; because, they won’t be able to uptake the nutrients they need to grow properly.
If your PH is too high, you can lower it using a sulfur based soil amendment. Not all of them are equal, however. Elemental sulfur, for example, can take a year or more before it starts making a difference in your soil’s PH.
Other options, like aluminum sulfate or sulfur coated urea can start taking effect almost immediately and lower your soil’s PH within a month. When choosing what product you’re going to use to lower your soil’s PH, it’s important to take into account how long it takes to work vs when you intend to plant your strawberries.
Spacing Your Strawberries
Once these things are all taken care of, you’re ready to plant your strawberries. Let’s take a minute to talk about how to space your strawberry plants.
If you’re following traditional row gardening, you’ll want to space your strawberry plants 1.5-2’ apart. If you’re doing a square foot or other biointensive style setup, you can grow up to 4 strawberry plants per square foot.
The reason for this difference is that the square foot garden style soil is much richer soil that is high enough in nutrients that you can grow the plants closer together. Plus, it helps to crowd out weeds so they don’t get started in your garden.
Planting Your Strawberries
For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you’re starting with either a live strawberry plant or a bare root strawberry plant.
If you have a live plant that you bought from a nursery or garden center, remove it from its pot and massage the root ball a bit to encourage the roots to grow outward once you plant it into the ground. If you’re getting the bare root strawberries, this step isn’t necessary.
Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball (or wide enough to comfortably spread the bare roots into), and gently set it into the hole. Fill the hole back up, gently patting down the soil around your plant.
(Since we covered amending the soil in a previous section, I’m assuming you don’t need any further amending at this step.)
Once you’ve planted all of your strawberry plants into the ground, thoroughly water the soil to fill in any air pockets that might be left around your strawberry plants. (Also to moisten the soil.)
Growing Strawberries On Your Patio or Balcony
If all you have is an apartment, and you don’t have any room outside to plant a garden, you can still keep strawberries. In fact, you might have an advantage in growing strawberries.
Growing strawberries on your patio or balcony is not as difficult as you might think. All you need are some pots, soil, and some strawberry plants. The plants can be purchased at most nurseries and garden centers.
Strawberry towers are probably the best approach in this case. They offer you more strawberry plants per square foot than almost any other method of growing from a patio.
They are essentially a series of pots that stack on top of each other, and you can put up to 4 strawberry plants in each pot.
This allows you to grow up to 20 strawberry plants in the area you’d usually use for a single container.
If you choose not to go this route, a self-watering container is another good option for strawberries.
Growing in this sort of setup is exactly the same process as growing strawberries in the ground, except the soil you use is going to be potting soil.
Growing Strawberries Indoors – Chill Hours
I want to include a note specifically on strawberry plants’ need of having a certain amount of cold in order to properly fruit the next year.
Generally, the required number of chill hours for strawberries is 200-300 hours where the temperature is between 28 – 45F.
This isn’t an issue in most areas if you’re growing your strawberries outside. If you’re growing inside, however, it’s a lot harder to get this amount of cold for that long.
You have two options here. First is to treat your strawberries as annuals and buy pre-chilled strawberries each time you want to grow a new crop.
The other option you have is to chill your own strawberries. Generally speaking, this means you want to harvest the runners your strawberry plants produce and wrap them in a moist paper towel. Store them in the fridge for around 2 – 3 weeks, after which they should be ready to go.
If you neglect doing this, you’ll have a poor crop or no crop next year, as your flower buds won’t open.
Watering Your Strawberries
Watering your strawberries is probably the most important part of growing strawberries in general. Strawberries should be kept in soil that is consistently moist.
Watering strawberries is a delicate process. If you water them too much, they will get soggy and die of root rot. If you don’t water them enough, they will wilt and die. (Or at least won’t produce as much fruit as they otherwise could.) But if you do it right, they will grow and produce plenty of fruit that is big and juicy!
How often should I water my strawberries?
Depending on the temperature and humidity level in the area you’re growing them, strawberries may need to be watered anywhere from once per week up to daily. Since strawberries need to be kept evenly moist, it all depends on whether your soil is starting to dry out.
Check the top inch or two of the soil, and if it’s dry, it’s time to water again. You can do this with a finger or with a soil moisture meter. These are available at most garden stores, and they’re relatively cheap.
Fertilizing Your Strawberries
The next part of growing strawberries is to keep them properly fertilized. As a fruiting plant, strawberries require a lot of nutrients to be able to continue producing healthy fruit.
The most common advice you’ll read about fertilizing strawberries is that you should fertilize them in the spring, at the start of their growing season. (Which would be fall for people growing in hot climates.)
This is actually not the best time to fertilize them. Giving them too much nitrogen at the start of growing season can lead to soft berries. Instead, you should fertilize them with a 12-12-12 fertilizer after you have harvested your strawberries off of the plants.
This will give them plenty of time to grow and use the nitrogen before they start flowering again.
Note that this doesn’t apply to people growing strawberries outdoors in zones south of zone 8, where they are typically annuals due to summer heat killing them off. Your options are limited in these areas unless you are growing a type of strawberry that has adapted to the heat of zones 9 and further south. (Though I’m not aware of any such varieties.)
Strawberries are a challenging yet rewarding crop to grow, whether you want to grow them indoors or outdoors.
They do require a bit of work to keep happy due to their requirement for a constant level of moisture as well as needing a certain number of chill hours to grow fruit the following year.
And then there’s the matter of protecting your fruit from birds and bugs.
Still, if you are able to get all of that taken care of, you’ll be rewarded with a crop of fresh, sweet berries. Good luck to you with your strawberries!