Strawberries are versatile plants that can be grown in a number of different ways: in the open ground, in cold frames and under glass, in raised beds, pots and containers and hanging baskets.
They are an easy fruit to grow, but also a vulnerable one that can succumb to pests, diseases and the vagaries of weather, if you don’t follow a few simple rules when planting and growing them.
Here are my tips on how to grow strawberries in your garden, whether you are growing a major crop on your plot or a plant or two in pots.
1. Always buy disease free, certified plants from a reliable source. These can be planted in autumn or early spring as bare root runners (young plants).
Cold stored runners (supplied bare root) can be planted from late spring to early summer and fruit in two months. Pot grown plants can be planted at the same time, or later on.
If starting from scratch it is better to start with fresh, reliable stock rather than old plants or their offspring passed on by a friend or neighbour.
2. Strawberry vigour often declines in time. The plants produce runners (young plants at the end of creeping stems), these can make the planting areas overcrowded if you don’t remove most of these and transplant them.
It is a good idea to grow on the young, vigorous runners and use these to replace the parent plant every two to three years. If the parent plants or runners are showing any signs of disease it is better to start again with fresh stock.
3. If growing strawberries in the open ground avoid replanting in the same position when you come to replace plants. Also avoid growing where potatoes, tomatoes or chrysanthemums have been growing.
This is a precaution against soil borne pests and diseases such as eelworm and verticillium.
4. Strawberries need sunshine. A damp shady planting position is a waste of time. You need a sunny, sheltered spot where pollinating insects won’t get blown away by the prevailing wind.
If growing in a cold frame or greenhouse pollinators need to be encouraged or hand pollination is necessary.
5. Strawberry plants can be grown under polythene tunnel cloches. This protects them from the birds and coaxes the plants to grow, flower and fruit up to two weeks earlier than plants grown in the open.
Check them regularly to make sure that they do not dry out and that the flowers are getting pollinated.
6. Strawberries prefer a mineral-rich, alkaline soil. If growing in a container, use a growing medium containing loam, rather than a soil-less compost.
This holds on to moisture and nutrients which ensures healthy growth and plenty of flowers and fruit.
7. Strawberries hate poor, shallow soils. In these conditions it is much better to grow them in raised beds or containers. Improving the soil with organic matter is rarely sufficient.
8. Strawberries need a fertile soil and plenty of potash for fruit formation. They are members of the rose family, so rose fertiliser is a good slow release feed. A liquid tomato fertiliser during fruit formation and development is highly beneficial.
Compost and well-rotted manure alone are not enough and too much can produce lush leaf growth at the expense of flowers.
9. If you have space, grow varieties that will provide a succession of fruit, but grow enough to provide a realistic crop for your use.
Ideally three plants of three different varieties is a minimum quantity if you want a realistic picking. If space is limited opt for three plants of the same variety.
10. Strawberry mats, or traditionally straw around the plants keeps the fruit off the ground protecting it from wet and keeping it clean. If you can’t be bothered with this grow your strawberries in pots or in raised beds.