Summer may seem a long ways off, but it’s never too early to get excited about your garden and all that can happen when the weather gets warmer! One of the great joys of summertime is fresh strawberries, which offer a wonderful and refreshing treat beloved by many. Across the US strawberries are a popular garden plant and easy to grown—but how should you get started? As it turns out there are a number of possible approaches to planting and growing your own strawberries. There’s sure to be something that works for your space, so let’s dig in.
First off, let’s start with a bit of history. Although the garden strawberry we know and love first appears in France in the late 18th century, strawberries are a native of the Americas where cultivated by the natives of those regions. The modern strawberry is the product of selective breeding between several varietals of wild strawberries. The name “strawberry” most likely comes from the straw that was spread around the plants to help keep the fruit away from the dirt and thus preventing premature rotting. This is a technique similar to many used today, and we’ll discuss that further in a bit.
There are a number of contemporary varieties of strawberry, varying in color, size, and flavor, but the common red garden strawberry is a good choice to start with—you can always try more later on! Growing your own strawberries is fairly easy in most of the country, as most strawberries only need a few things to thrive:
- Strawberries like full sun, eight hours or more of direct sunlight every day
- Well-drained soil is a must for strawberries, so they do especially well in raised bedsor containers. The latter makes them an ideal patio or windowsill plant.
- Soil pHshould ideally stay between 5.5 and 6.5 for best results.
- Strawberries like soil high in organic matter—rich compost and peat moss work well.
These are relatively easy conditions for most gardeners to meet with a little work and the right tools, so take a look around and see where and how you can start you strawberries this year!
Now that we know what conditions they like, let’s talk a bit about planting strawberries. While it is possible to start strawberries from seeds, it may not be the best option if you’re growing strawberries for the first time. It can take a while for the seeds and new plants to establish themselves and start producing fruit—into the second or third year in some cases. It’s easiest to begin with new plants—also called “starts”--which are widely available in garden stores and nurseries in the spring. Once you have the right spot and the soil is prepared, planting strawberries is pretty easy. You can start putting new plants in up to four weeks before the last frost of the year, although plants in raised beds and containers may benefit from a little protection during cold snaps. New plants should be spaced at least 12 to 15 inches (30-38cm) apart, with the crown of the plant at or above ground level. Do not bury the crown, as that can cause fungal rot to set in and kill your new plant! Use a light mulch around and between plants to maintain soil moisture and temperature and help protect the fruits from rotting—yes, straw works well as mulch! Strawberries need about an inch of water a week, but don’t overdo it unless temperatures are especially high.
When will you strawberries put out fruit? Established plants typically start producing fruit when summer hits in full, so June or July in the US and Canada. When it comes to fruiting, there are a few broad categories most strawberries fall into. June-bearing strawberries bear their fruit all at once, producing a full harvest in a few weeks and generally offering larger fruit. Everbearing strawberries may have an explosion of blossoms and fruit early in summer followed by either a trickle of fruit throughout the season or another harvest just before fall. The third variety, alpine strawberries, are generally grown as decorative plants but produce small flavorful fruit throughout the season.
We hope this sparks your interests in growing your own strawberries. They’re a fun and easy plant, making them ideal for new gardeners or young ones just learning about the world of plants. We’ll have more information about growing strawberries in future blogs, including details on different varietals, recipes, and a visit to a commercial strawberry farm!