How to grow sweet strawberries
Sow strawberry seeds in pots, beds, baskets during spring for a winter harvest of juicy bite-sized fruits.
The origin of strawberries
From the Rosaceae or rose family, strawberries are part of the genus Fragaria. They probably got their name from the early British practice of laying straw under the berries to keep them off the ground.
Wild strawberries grow in woodland clearings and thrive on the acidic qualities of tree humus.
The main types of strawberry
After centuries of breeding in Europe and America, the main types grown now are commonly called garden and alpine strawberries.
Best time of year to grow
Spring and autumn are the seasons for raising strawberries. They fruit throughout summer and winter, and grow in most climates.
For a crop in about 16 weeks, grow strawberries from seed now or buy and plant runners for fast fruit.
Sprawling herbaceous plants, strawberries are grown in rows with at least 300mm between plants. A single row of about 20 plants will keep the average family supplied during the growing season.
Grow in pots
If you don’t have space for a garden bed, grow strawberries in containers.
There are lots of varieties that can be grown in the ground or pots and baskets, including specially bred plants that don’t produce runners.
To grow several plants together without overcrowding, use a custom container called a pocket pot. Also used for herbs, it has cavities with openings that allow the strawberries to spill down the sides of the pot.
To make a DIY pocket pot, use a stack of graduated terracotta pots. Add potting mix and push the plants through the openings from the inside until the pot is full. Put the pot in a lightly shaded position and water regularly, but don’t wet the leaves.
TIP: Young plants dry out fast so don’t leave them in the sun before planting.
In the garden
Start a strawberry patch from seed or transplant 100 mm potted plants.
Buy only certified virus-free plants and rotate the beds each year to help stop the spread of soil-borne diseases. Choose disease-resistant varieties for your local area, if available.
Image source: Revise Science
Replace plants every few years when they are no longer productive, and make new plants from runners during summer.
To prepare soil for planting
Dig it over to remove weeds and improve with well-rotted compost.
Sow seeds thinly in trays, cover lightly with potting mix and keep moist. Seedlings should emerge in two to three weeks. Transplant when large enough to handle into beds or pots in a full sun position with good airflow.
Plant strawberries in rows with the crowns, or swollen stem bases, just above the soil surface. Dig a hole in well-drained soil and spread out the roots then cover them with soil and pack it down.
TIP: In heavy soil improve the drainage by mixing in sand, coarse organic matter or garden compost.
Water in well and keep the soil moist, don’t let it dry out or get soggy. Give fruiting plants regular water.
Mulch with straw or use weedmat, cutting slits for the plants. This helps to keep the fruit clean, suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Harvest fruit when fully coloured and firm, cutting the stalks with secateurs. Leave berries on the vine to ripen fully. Hard fruit is still underripe, while soft fruit is overripe.
TIP: Pick regularly for more berries.