Growing Strawberries

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growing strawberries in garden with straw mulch

Mulch, such as straw (as pictured here) or black plastic, helps keep the soil moist and the fruit clean.

white strawberry blooms

It takes about a month to go from pollinated bloom to ripe fruit.

The best strawberries you’ll ever taste will come from a garden, because fully ripened strawberries have a rich, aromatic flavor unmatched by their supermarket counterparts. Savoring the melt-in-your-mouth juiciness of freshly picked strawberries is but one reason to grow your own. As the first fruits to ripen in spring, strawberries are nutritious assets to any garden. The sturdy little plants prosper when planted in properly prepared beds or rows, or you can put them to work as edible edgings or let them sprawl over the top of a wall. Strawberries are happy to grow in strawberry jars and hanging baskets, too.

The Strawberry Life Cycle
Success with strawberries asks that you understand their life cycle. Like most hardy perennials, strawberries die back in winter and start growing vigorously as the soil warms in spring. After bearing fruit (as early as February in Florida, or June farther north), many types of strawberries produce numerous runners with baby plants at the tips. Those runners often root themselves nearby yet remain attached to the mother plant. These types of strawberries produce more fruit if you clip off most of the runners, allowing each plant to produce no more than 3 daughter plants each summer.

Grow plants in a strawberry jar. Fruit stays clean.

Special containers called strawberry jars are a space-efficient way to grow strawberries in a pot. Fruit in strawberry jars is clean and easy to pick.

Exhausted from producing fruit and offspring, strawberries typically take a second rest period during summer’s second half. When kept weeded and lightly watered, most parent plants – and their offspring – perk up and grow again for a while in the fall. Even though it may look like little is going on with strawberries in September, the plants are busy during the fall months developing the latent buds that will grow into next spring’s flowers.

From zone 6 northward, strawberries are best planted in spring so they will be well-rooted by the following winter. Containers can be replanted in late summer and moved to a cool, protected place such as an unheated garage during the coldest months.

From zone 7 southward, strawberries can be planted in fall. (In Florida and other warm, humid coastal areas, many are grown as cool weather annuals.) Once a planting is established, simply lift your healthiest plants each September, and replant them in a freshly renovated site.

Growing strawberries doesn’t have to entail so much work, though. In all areas, strawberries can be allowed to grow into a vibrant green ground cover that requires little maintenance. The plants won’t bear as heavily as more intensively managed plants, but they will still produce delicious berries, year after year.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Cut runners so the plant continues to focus energy on berry production.

These young strawberry plants are sending out runners (the shoots to the left). If your strawberry plants produce runners, clip most of them to allow the mother plant to produce more fruit.

Strawberries need at least 8 hours of full sun each day, and they prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. If soils in your area are naturally alkaline, it is best to grow strawberries in half-barrels or other large containers filled with potting soil. Strawberries may also sulk in heavy clay, which should be generously amended with composted leaves, fully rotted sawdust, or another bulky type of organic matter before planting strawberries. After mixing in 4 inches or more of compost, rake clay soil into raised mounds to further improve drainage. If your soil is sandy, simply cultivate to remove weeds, and mix in a 1-inch layer of rich compost or rotted manure.

Many varieties of strawberries eagerly produce offspring, so it is best to space them 18 inches apart. There are a few varieties, though (such as Tristan and Loran), that produce few if any runners; these can be spaced 6 inches apart. (Check the tag for exact details on spacing.) Be sure to set the plants so that their roots are well covered with soil but the central growing bud, or crown, is exposed to light and fresh air. This is very important: If you bury the crown, the plant could easily rot. Water them well. Any type of mulch – from black plastic to pine straw to shredded leaves – will keep the soil moist and the plants clean. Fertilize with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food for excellent results. Look for your plants to begin blooming in early spring, and the flowers must be visited by bees and other pollinating insects before they can set fruit. In warm, sunny weather, berries ripen about 30 days after blossoms are fertilized.

Protect strawberry plants from frost and from birds by creating a hoop that can be covered with row cover cloth or bird netting.

An arch made of wire fencing can support a row cover for frost protection in the spring and bird netting later when the fruit comes along. Remove row covers when possible to encourage visits by bees that help with pollination.

June-bearing varieties such as Allstar bear all at once, usually over a period of about 3 weeks. Although called June-bearing, these bear earlier than June in warm climates.

Everbearing varieties like Eversweet and Quinault  produce a big crop from spring flowers, set light flushes of fruit through summer, and then bloom and bear again in late summer and fall.

Troubleshooting

Odd looking strawberries can be caused by poor pollination. This happens to strawberry plants in cool, wet weather.

If your strawberry plant produces deformed berries, the weather may be to blame. Bees tend to stay in their hives during rain and cool temperatures, which can hinder pollination.

Slugs often chew holes in strawberries just as they begin to ripen. Organic mulches such as straw encourage 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 of strawberries are birds. To keep robins, brown thrashers, and other fruit-eaters from stealing your berries, cover the plants with lightweight bird netting when the berries begin to ripen.

Sometimes your fruit may be small because of heat and drought. Once you start watering and the weather improves, the new fruit should be of normal size.

Harvest and Storage

Homegrown strawberries are sweeter and more tender than store-bought strawberries.Pick strawberries in the morning, when the fruits are cool, and immediately put them in the refrigerator. Wait until just before you eat or cook them to rinse the berries thoroughly with cool water. Extra strawberries can be frozen, dried, or made into jam or preserves.

Download our How to Grow Strawberries instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

How do I know how old my plants are? Do I need to remove the blooms the first year?

Any plants that were just purchased are in their first year of growth. Although our plant tags may say to pick the blooms the first year, this is not essential. Picking the blooms keeps energy directed toward foliage and plant growth so that plants are bigger the following year. However, you can leave the blooms and enjoy a few berries the first year.

Is the Arizona sun too intense for strawberries?

In your area, give them shade through the summer months.

How do strawberries grow in strawberry jars?

Strawberries do well in strawberry jars, but you will have to work to keep them watered and they are not as productive as in the ground, due to much lower soil volume. Strawberry jars are a fun novelty and are especially useful for small patio and condo gardens.

How do I save my strawberries from greedy birds?

It is always a good idea to cover ripening berries with a net that protects the fruit without harming the birds. You can find bird netting at stores that sell garden supplies.

When are strawberries ready to pick?

Harvest berries when they turn red. Avoid leaving ripe berries on the vine, as they will rot quickly.

Is it true that strawberries should be stored unwashed?

Yes. Wet berries spoil rapidly, even in the refrigerator. Only wash strawberries immediately before eating.

117 thoughts on “Growing Strawberries

  1. My strawberry plant has a large, tall stem and the leaves on the bottom. Is this normal? Should I cut it down? I’ve never seen a strawberry plant grow so tall with all of the leaves practically on the bottom.

    • Hi Danielle,
      You may have a runner that has sent up a new daughter plant. If this is the case, you can clip the daughter plant off. If you would like, you can upload a picture to the Bonnie Plants Ask an Expert system to get a better look. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. Hello. I recently bought strawberry plants. I have had a few people tell me to pick the blooms off. Some of the blooms have strawberries on them. Do I go ahead and pick those off? Will it affect the plants next year?

    • Hello Sheena,
      It’s a good idea to pinch off some blooms so the strawberry plants will put their energy into root and foliage growth so that plants are bigger the followng year. But leave a few blooms and berries, you have to have a taste test :) – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. When a berry in my hanging basket has started to turn red, is that as big as it will get? ie, does it grow to full size and THEN turn red or can i expect it to keep growing in size while also changing to red?

    thanks!

    • Hello Megan,
      Once the berry turns red, it is time to harvest. Strawberries do not keep very long on the vine once they are red. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. I am new to strawberries and was wondering how, since I mulched the strawberries plants with straw, how will the plant send out runners? And if they do, will I see them?
    Should I leave the mulch on all winter for protection? I live in Zone 9.

    • Hi Darryl,
      Don’t worry, even with mulch, the strawberry plants will send out runners. I like to have mulch around the plants – not only for winter protection- but to help keep the weeds down. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I live in Omaha, NE. I planted my strawberry plants in pots in early April. They seem to be doing great and already have some strawberries. This confused me as I thought I had the June bearing variety. I am assuming I have ever-bearing now. How do I know when to pick the berries? They are small but are completely red.

    • Hi Melissa,
      Sounds like it may be time to harvest! Harvest berries when they are completely red. Once they are ripe, they will start to rot quickly. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. I was reading up on strawberries hoping to improve the patch I planted last year. We got few berries and they weren’t very big. I am going to fertilize and try to make the soil a little more acidic then put down straw. One of the sites I read said not to plant strawberries where tomatoes or peppers have been for the past 4 yrs. My plot had both the past few years as well as zucchini. I was thinking of making the whole plot strawberries and letting them fill in. Should I start over somewhere else? Also, not sure what to do to rejuvenate. Do I did up whole plot and plant new plants? Thanks so much, I really would like a nice strawberry patch but so far it has been pretty much a dud. Thanks again, Debra

    • Hi Debra,
      It is not recommend to plant strawberries after tomatoes and plants in the tomato family because all of these plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt – a soil fungus. This is one of the reasons that tomatoes with some disease resistance are widely grown and crop rotation is important. I see no reason to dig up mid season (depending on where you live if could be early season :) ) The purpose of renovating a strawberry bed is to keep the strawberries producing for a couple of seasons – keeping the bed from becoming overcrowded. This can be done by mowing the strawberries back after harvest (if they are planted in a row), discarding the leaves and creating new rows so there is space between the plants. This is a publication from Ohio State Univeristy extension that goes into strawberry renovation into detail. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  7. Hi, I bought one of your strawberry plants this weekend at Home Depot, the one that comes in the hanging pot. Should I replant it or can I leave it there?

    • Hi Noelia,
      Strawberries grow well in hanging pots! Is the hanging basket at least 10″ in diameter? If it is, it is large enough for a strawberry plant :) – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  8. Hi, We have snow coming here at Lake of the Ozarks here in Missouri. Yesterday it was in the 80′s and now my gardens are full of blooms and fruit. Do I need to protect them? I’m afraid the fruit will freeze. Thinking about throwing sheets over them. Really need some ideas fast. Hope you have time to answer. I appreciate your time and advice. Thank You so much.

    Sincerely,
    Marianne Taylor

    • Hello Marianne,
      With snow coming, you may want to cover the strawberries with fruit - this is how row covers work. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  9. Hi! I have my quinalt strawberries in a container, but didn’t put down any mulch. I’ve noticed that some of the smaller leaves around the crown are turning reddish-brown, so is that because there’s no mulch? If so, is cypress mulch a good choice? I can’t seem to find straw mulch anywhere. Also, if I do put down mulch, what plant food should I use for the berries? I currently have Osmocote granular plant food, but can I continue using that if there is mulch surrounding the plant? Thank you!

    • Hi Julio,
      It is normal to have new reddish leaves on a strawbery plant. In fact, all the leaves would be red if not for the green pigment in chorophyll :) Just check them everyday and make sure the leaves are not turning brown and drying out. If so, check your container soil to see if it is staying too wet or too dry. You can use almost any of the wood mulches. Cypress mulch is a good mulch to use, just don’t pack it so tight that the strawberry runners are unable to come up. You can keep fertilizing with your plant food – or use a water soluble type. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  10. I live in Arizona and have tried growing strawberries each year. Each year I get the saddest looking strawberries ever. I plant them once the temperature is lower than 75 so that they don’t fry. They get one or two flowers after a while which produce extremely sweet strawberries not even a centimeter across. After I get a few berries the plant starts to shrivel up and die. I give it plenty of water and room to grow. During the summer I visit my grandma up on Vancouver Island and see her magnificent strawberry patch. I’m a bit jealous and want to know what I can do to get mine to grow large and healthy like hers.

  11. I am planting Albion Strawberries in 5 hanging baskets. They are lined baskets. I also have the pebbles that hold water. Should I use them on the bottom of the basket then the soil
    How many plants in one basket I was thinking 4. I read that it is advisable to mound your soil then plant the on top of it.
    I guess I am going a long way to take care of 5 baskets ON MY DECK. I have organic fertilizer which calls for 1/4 cup spread evenly around the collar.

    • Hi Ethel,
      When it comes to plating strawberries in containers, the key is a well drained potting mix. If you use the pebbles, I would use them on the bottom. The number of plants will depend on how large the containers are. A 10 inch size container is suggested per strawberry plant. Strawberries grow well in containers…here is another container idea, a strawberry fountain! Strawberries can get a little finicky if their crown is planted too deep…there is a great video with planting instructions on the Growing Strawberries page. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  12. hi! I received several Bonnie quinalt Strawberry plants from my son for my birthday april 6th. I am new to this, I live in central nebraska and want to know the optimal time to plant these as we have had an ice and snow storm here this week and the ground is still very cold. Thank you!

    • Hi Dee,
      Happy Birthday! Strawberries are cool / cold weather plants. This is an extension publication from Nebraska with details on growing strawberries in your area…looks like it is time to plant your berries outside! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

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