How to Grow Strawberries
No garden should be without strawberries. They’re beautiful, easy to grow, and maybe best of all, the first fruits to appear in the spring. Strawberries have a reputation for liking mild temperatures, but there are varieties that thrive from deepest Alaska to the hottest parts of Florida.
Things You’ll Need
- Compost Makers
- Garden Shears
- Garden Spades
- Garden Trowels
Buy strawberry plants at the nursery or order them from a catalog for planting in early spring as soon as you can work the ground (fall in warm climates). Make sure the plants are certified disease-free; strawberries can carry viruses that not only will kill the crop but also will spread through your garden.
Choose a site that has excellent drainage, gets full sun and warms up early in the spring so blossoms aren’t destroyed by late frosts. A gentle, south-facing slope is ideal. If your soil drains poorly, grow strawberries in raised beds or containers.
Till the planting bed thoroughly to a depth of at least 12 inches, removing all traces of weeds and grass, and dig in plenty of compost or well-cured manure to ensure the rich, fertile soil that strawberries need. The soil’s pH should be slightly acid, from 5.5 to 6.5.
Dig a hole for each plant five to seven inches wide and deep enough to accommodate the roots. Set the plant into the hole with the crown just above ground level, and fill in the soil so that the roots are completely buried. Spacing depends on the planting method you choose.
Use the “matted row” planting method for the easiest maintenance. Set plants 18 inches apart in rows three to four feet apart. The plants will send out runners with abandon, with each runner producing a new little plant.
Keep the spaces between rows open by returning to the berry patch after each harvest and removing the outermost plants from both sides of each row. You can either snip the runners and dig up the attached plants, or simply run a mechanical tiller down the row.
Remove some of the original “mother” plants from each row at same time, leaving the newest plants, which will bear more vigorously the following season. Treat the crop as a biennial, plowing the plants under after the first harvest and starting over the following spring.
Use the “hill” method for a longer-lasting bed, or if you have limited growing space. Set plants 12 inches apart on all sides, whether in rows or a cluster (just be sure the bed is small enough that you can reach into it comfortably).
Cut off all runners as soon as they appear. This way the plants direct all their energy into fruit production and should give you ample harvests for six years or more.
Make sure young plants get at least an inch of water a week. Mulch to conserve moisture and deter weeds, and apply a winter mulch north of USDA zone 5. A light material such straw or salt hay is ideal for both purposes.
Avoid letting any fruit develop the first year, regardless of which planting method you use. Instead, pick off each blossom as soon as you see it – forming and ripening even a berry or two will weaken a plant so much that the following year’s production will be cut drastically.
Pick all strawberries the day they ripen, and eat or preserve them as soon as possible: overripe fruit spoils quickly on or off the vine.