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How to grow strawberries – the beginner’s guide
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Strawberries are a versatile fruit they are the perfect picking fruit to have in your home no matter the size of your garden. In fact, they grow very easily in the ground where they will spread out and quickly take over but they grow just as well in containers and even in hanging baskets. For that reason, strawberries are an incredibly popular fruit to have and best of all homegrown strawberries taste amazing.
First, you have to decide where you are going to plant your strawberries. You can choose to plant them inside a planter such as a raised bed or a container, a hanging basket, or in the ground. The decision you make will dictate the equipment required.
Slight amendments will need to be made for the compost or soil that you use. And then, of course, you will need to choose the recommended varieties that you want to grow.
Types of strawberries you can plant
The most popular and probably more traditional type of strawberries are summer-fruiting varieties. They usually produce very heavy crops, often much larger strawberries but only a few weeks. However, you can buy early, mid and later fruiting varieties so it’s a good idea to plant a mix to extend how long you can pick strawberries for.
You can also get what is commonly known as Perpetual strawberries, sometimes called everbearers, these produce smaller crops and smaller fruits. The advantage of these is that they produce consistent crops from early summer, right the way through to autumn. They also grow well in partial shade so they are a good type for these types of areas where they won’t get full sun.
Finally, you can also get alpine strawberries which produce very small strawberries with an excellent sweet taste. The flower from around July, through to September and are often a good choice for hanging baskets.
Where to plant strawberries
Strawberries will grow best if they are given sunny conditions with shelter against strong winds. They also prefer having well-drained soil that remains moist.
Growing strawberries in the ground
If you are growing strawberries in the ground you will need to consider which area of your garden you plan to use, and specifically whether that area needs to be altered before you plant the strawberries. Different varieties that you get from nurseries might need special consideration. If your soil, for example, is very heavy and dense, compact or missing key nutrients, you would do well to add perlite and compost to the mix in order to give your strawberries everything they need. If you have fairly good soil, simply dig in some well-rotted manure before finally adding some slow release fertiliser such as growmore at the recommended rate to the soil. Then your area will be ready for planting.
When you are ready, dig out a hole for the plant you have purchased that is 5 cm deeper than the root ball of the container in which your strawberries arrived.
Add a layer of compost to the bottom of that hole.
When you place the strawberry plant in the ground make sure that the top of the soil is precisely level with the crown of the plant and not any higher or lower.
Once you have put the strawberries in the ground make sure that you water them well.
To do this you need to keep your eye out for the horizontal stems that grow out of your plants after the first season in your garden. This is a natural way that strawberry plants spread and these are called runners. You have different options here. The runners will help the plant to expand and to produce more fruit long-term however if you cut them it’s much easier for you to weed and mulch your garden in exchange for less fruit, however, we find you generally get better-sized strawberries when you remove the runners as the plants can concentrate on flowering and fruiting and not growing. This is simply a decision you will have to make based on the space you have available and what your overall goals are with the strawberry plants.
Once the strawberry plants produce fruit its a good idea to tuck some straw under the fruits, this keeps them looking there best, it also helps suppress weeds which of course reduces competition for nutrients in the soil.
No matter where you plant them you should remove any dead leaves to help alleviate the risk of disease and to make sure the growing stems don’t get damaged.
Birds are very partial to fruits and you will likely find that slugs and snails will try to get at your strawberries as well in your garden so it may be worth applying some slug pellets if necessary.
To protect them from birds considering using netting or a fruit cage, if you grow them in rows in the ground a miniature netted tunnel could be an affordable way to protect the fruit. Once they have finished fruiting remember to remove the netting to let the birds eat the many pests.
Top tip – It is recommended that you replace strawberry plants every 3 years and preferably grow them in a different location in your garden in order to prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases.
Growing strawberries in containers
If you are growing strawberries in containers you should follow the same rules as listed above but you will need to use a potting soil mixture rather than just planting them directly into the ground with the existing soil and a mixture of compost.
More importantly, growing strawberries in containers allow you to move the containers from place to place. If you are planting in longer containers or raised container beds, for example, you can avoid digging individual holes for each plant and instead just dig a trench where you plan to place each of the strawberries. They’re after you can place them into the ground in approximately 10 or 15cm apart.
Water the container thoroughly and be cognizant of the fact that if there is no rainfall or if your containers are placed somewhere protected where they wouldn’t get access to rain such as under a roof or a protected porch, you will need to compensate for this.
If you notice that the containers in which you are growing your strawberries have become infected it might be in your best interest to simply start again and replace your strawberries prematurely while simultaneously replacing any of the soil and properly bleaching the containers before using them again.
Growing strawberries in hanging baskets
Knowing how to plant strawberries in hanging baskets is very simple. Make sure that you have selected the appropriate location which still affords the strawberries protection from the elements while guaranteeing sun exposure.
If you are using a hanging basket, most hanging baskets can be purchased with the coconut hair mat along the bottom, but this is absolutely terrible at moisture retention. Every time you water your hanging basket the water will fall right through. It is important to consider a layer of plastic underneath to help maintain moisture but with enough holes that you don’t leave your strawberry susceptible to root rot. Ideally, the plastic hanging baskets as shown in the picture above are perfect and resolved this issue, just make sure they have holes in the bottom.
How to feed and water your strawberries
Regardless of where you plant them, strawberries still prefer high humus content especially if they are younger.
Once you plant your strawberries in whichever environment you have selected, apply a general fertilizer such as growmore around the plants but follow the suggested rate on the package. This will help to produce more flowers and subsequently more fruit. Once your strawberry plants start to flower, this is the perfect time to feed your strawberry plants again so that they have the nutrients they need to produce top-of-the-line strawberries. This time give strawberry plants a liquid potash feed – such as a tomato feed which is super affordable too, feed every 7 to 14 days and you will be rewarded with better fruit.
If you are feeding strawberries that are in hanging baskets or containers, you should use a good quality potting compost and begin feeding as explained above once they are in flower.
In terms of watering you need to monitor your plants and water them well in the morning and the evening especially if they are in pots or any other type of hanging container. They will dehydrate quickly which is is is not good for strawberries so keeping the soil somewhat moist, but not wet will give the best growing conditions. You don’t want to water directly on top of the fruits or the flowers though as that can lead to rot, ideally, you want to avoid watering he crowns of the strawberry plants.
When your strawberries are fully red in their appearance you can cut them off at the stem. It is better to cut them off rather than try to pull the fruit because pulling it to not only bruised the fruit but bruised the rest of the strawberry plant.
As soon as you pick them you should eat them as soon as possible as they will not keep well after they have reached full ripening. Most varieties also don’t seem to freeze very well.
The first year you plant your strawberries you will likely get a punnet’s worth of berries and thereafter you should see that amount double in quantity.
The best varieties to grow at home include the vibrant strawberry and the Snow White strawberry. The vibrant strawberry produces richly red and glassy berries that produce high yields. The Snow White Berry offers a white variety that has bright red seeds and can be added to desserts or food in a very fun fashion.