How to grow strawberries
Who doesn’t love strawberries? If you’re a strawberry fan, the many varieties of Fragaria × ananassa are easy to grow at home, allowing you to enjoy the perks of harvesting ripe fruits from your own garden. Strawberry growers soon realise you’ll have an abundance of juicy fruit to enjoy as just one plant can be a prolific bearer.
Planting and harvesting strawberries in Australia
Plant strawberries in autumn (March) in warm climates and from late winter (August) in cold climates.
Harvest strawberries from mid-spring to autumn (October-April) depending on the climatic region.
Understanding the different types of strawberry
Strawberries are either summer-bearing or everbearing.
Summer-bearing strawberries tend to grow bigger fruits and produce one larger harvest over a two-week period in the summer. The exact timing depends on the cultivar. These larger harvests are ideal if you plan to make jam with your strawberries, as you will require a glut of fruit in order to do this.
Everbearing plants, also called perpetual strawberries, produce fruit throughout the warmer months but in smaller numbers and more sporadically. This type of strawberry is ideal for small harvests to enjoy at breakfast, for example.
It’s also worth mentioning the alpine, or wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca. Technically an everbearing strawberry, it also does well in gardens. The fruits are small and a bit dry but with an intense flavour. They spread easily and make an excellent ground cover, which is another perk as the dainty leaves are ornamental.
Strawberries come in a range of different shapes, sizes, flavours and cropping times. The main summer-fruiting varieties are divided into early, mid and late-season types. There are also perpetual or everbearing varieties that can fruit more or less continuously from mid-spring to April.
Some of the best varieties include:
- Tioga, Red Gauntlet, Toolangi Choice, Sweetest, Cambridge Rival, Sweetheart, Alita and Alpine
Your local garden centre will probably have a selection of different varieties, so you can pick and mix your plants for a long cropping period. Make sure you pick plants with plenty of healthy green leaves, that are fairly compact and not too leggy. There are also many mail order specialist suppliers. Always ascertain that the strawberries are virus-tested or certified virus-free.
When to plant your strawberries
Strawberries are available as bare-root runners that are best planted in the spring or as young potted plants.
While it is possible to plant strawberries at almost any time of the year, as long as the soil is workable and not waterlogged, mid-spring or early autumn are the ideal times to plant for effective and bountiful harvests.
How to plant strawberries
So, you love the taste of strawberries. You’re ready to have them with everything, but your big question is: How to grow strawberries? The great news is that strawberries are simple and straightforward to grow although you do need to make sure you follow some basic guidelines. Here’s how to do it.
A thorough examination
The first step is to examine your plants prior to planting. Check them for signs of pests and disease and remove any damaged leaves with clean secateurs. If your new plants are on the small side, you may choose to remove any early flowers or immature fruits to encourage the plant to put its energy into producing fresh growth. This will give it a better chance of producing higher yields when it has fully developed.
Choosing where to grow them
When left to their own devices, strawberries may become very invasive which is why many gardeners prefer to grow them in containers. Traditional strawberry planters are specialised containers that allow multiple plants to be grown in a small amount of space. Strawberries grow well in most containers and hanging baskets, so long they are well drained. Try a premium fruit and citrus potting mix or acid-loving plants potting mix as a growing medium and space the strawberries about 20cm apart.
When planting strawberries in the garden, choose a sunny location as they fruit better when in full sun. While they will tolerate part-shade, yields may be smaller. Strawberries like fertile, well-drained soil. It’s worth working in some compost and/or soil improver into the soil before planting. Space the plants 30-45cm apart, in rows 60-90cm apart.
Replace strawberry plants with fresh, certified runners every second or third year to maintain a disease-free patch.
Planting your strawberry plants
Using a trowel, dig a planting hole twice as large as the plant’s root ball. Make sure the crown, where the leaves meet the roots, is level or just slightly proud of the soil or potting mix surface. Planting strawberries too deep can lead to rotting and planting too high will dry the roots out. Backfill around the roots and firm down the soil with your hands.
The final stage is optional but certainly helpful. Add a 5-10cm layer of straw or sugarcane mulch to the surface of the pot or bed, around the strawberry plants. This acts as a barrier between the developing fruit and the soil and aids in not only keeping them clean but minimising rotting.
When to harvest strawberries
It’s not hard to know when to harvest strawberries because the fruits will have darkened in colour and look plump and juicy. Try to harvest as soon as they are ripe as this is when they taste their best. Be as gentle as possible when harvesting to reduce bruising. If you can, remove the stalk and stem from the plant too.
How to care for your strawberries
Strawberry plants need some care to keep them healthy and productive. Water regularly, especially if the plants are growing in a container or raised bed. When watering, aim the flow near the base of the plant, rather than overhead, to keep the leaves as dry as possible as strawberries can be susceptible to moulds when wet.
Regular fertilising is also important when growing strawberries, as they are heavy feeders. Use a high-potash liquid feed every two weeks during the growing season to encourage flowering; more flowers mean more fruit.
It also pays to sprinkle some controlled release fertiliser for acid-loving plants, this ensures an even distribution of essential nutrients for stronger, longer growth.
Be aware that you may not be the only lover of fresh strawberries in the garden. Birds, slugs, snails and other insects enjoy them too. Netting over crops will deter birds from getting to them. Pots of strawberries should be positioned above the soil level to keep slugs and snails at bay. If you are growing strawberries in the ground, copper strips or crushed egg shells will discourage slugs or snails, or put down snail and slug pellets.
It’s worth remembering that strawberry plants eventually lose their vigour and usually need replacing every three to four years. While you may propagate baby plants from the runners your strawberries produce, it is usually better to buy certified virus-free replacements to ensure healthy, vigorous plants.
In the first and second years, it’s beneficial to remove runners as and when you see them. Cut them off where they meet the mother plant. This encourages your strawberry plants to put more energy into flowering and fruiting.
By following these simple and straightforward steps, you’ll have a bumper harvest of strawberries in no time. How you make the most of this delicious fruit is up to you!
Common strawberry plant pests and diseases
|Grey mould / Bortrytis mould||
Grey mould is a fungal disease that appears as powdery grey mould at the strawberry stalk, gradually covering the whole fruit, which then rots. Strawberries affected by grey mould should not be eaten.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that appears as a white powdery deposit on strawberry leaves that results in stunted growth and causes leaves to shrivel. Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to this disease.
Verticillium wilt is a soil borne fungus. It causes the leaves of strawberry plants to turn brown and wilt and eventually the whole plant will die.
|Slugs and snails||
Slugs and snails will eat ripe strawberries and can be identified by the slime trails that they leave, as well as the damage they do.