how to plant, grow & care for strawberries
complete growing guide
You can grow strawberries in the border, in pots, in the veg patch or on the allotment. They are easy to grow and, after a smaller first crop, will provide abundant fruit for at least three years. Home-grown strawberries always seem to have the best flavour, and you can pick and eat them as soon as they ripen. Any gluts can be turned into delicious jams or compotes or frozen for winter use.
- Common name Strawberry
- Latin name Fragaria x ananassa
- Type Hardy perennial
- Height & spread 25cm x 30cm
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full sun
- Spacing 30 - 45cm
- Yield Approx. 250g per plant
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Grow in a greenhouse? Yes
how to grow strawberries
where to grow strawberries
Soil type: Plant your strawberries in fertile, moist but well drained soil.
Aspect & Position: Full sun in a sheltered position in the kitchen garden, flower border, pots or window box.
when to plant strawberries
If you are growing strawberries from seed, sow them undercover in early spring. If you are planting young bare rooted plants, put them in as soon as they arrive in either spring or autumn.
how to plant strawberries
growing strawberries from seed
Sow indoors in early spring. Press the seeds into the surface of moist compost in a seed tray, cover the tray to seal in moisture and place somewhere bright and warm. Allow 2-3 weeks for germination.
Transplant seedlings into modules or individual pots. Harden off and plant out in May. Soil should be weed-free and well-aerated with plenty of organic matter (compost or well-rotted manure) dug in before planting. Strawberries can also be grown in containers using good quality, peat-free compost.
planting bare root strawberry plants
When you receive your bare root plants, immerse them in a bucket of warm water and soak for 20 minutes so the roots can rehydrate.
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and dig in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. Plant 45cm apart with 75cm between each row, label the row with the variety name, so that you have a chance of remembering whether they are early or late cropping. Dig your planting holes to the same depth as the lengths of the roots and twice as wide. Spread the roots out in the hole and refill with soil, keeping the crown of the plant at soil level where shoots will emerge. Water after planting and mulch with straw or bark to help preserve moisture.
Alternatively, bare root strawberry plants may also be planted through sheets of polythene which will help smother weeds, retain moisture and encourage early cropping by warming the soil. You can also bring forward the cropping season by growing them in an unheated greenhouse, either in the border, or in containers.
how to care for strawberries
watering & general care
The flowers may need protecting from frosts in spring using horticultural fleece or cloches. In early spring apply mulch with organic matter. Water and weed regularly throughout the growing season. Apply a liquid potash feed, such as a tomato feed, every 7 to 14 days.
Protect from slugs and snails by spreading straw around each plant and cover with netting to protect the ripening fruit from birds. Pinch out runners as they appear if new plants are not required.
growing strawberries in hanging baskets or pots
Strawberries are very versatile and can be planted in hanging baskets, growbags, pots or even deep galvanised gutters. Make sure you use a good multipurpose compost with some loam mixed in. Ensure they are kept watered and fed, especially in hot dry spells and cover with net once fruit starts to ripen. Strawberries in containers can also be grown in an unheated greenhouse, which encourages an even earlier crop.
harvesting your strawberries
Early varieties will be ready to harvest in May, midseason varieties in June and late varieties in July. Perpetual strawberries – sometimes called everbearers or remontants – produce small flushes of fruits from early summer to early autumn. With this long, light cropping we often find the birds don’t realise and so don’t nick all the fruit and you can get away without netting. Pick when fully ripe complete with stalks and use at once for the best flavour. These will keep in the fridge for a couple of days or are delicious turned into jam or compote with rhubarb.
Once the cropping comes to an end in summer cut out old foliage from plants taking care not to damage young leaves. Clear away straw, foliage and debris from around the plants to reduce opportunities for pests and diseases to take hold and feed with a balanced fertilizer.
propagating from runners
If you would like to increase your stock of plants you can allow the runners to root in pots of fresh compost, pegging them down with a bit of bent wire. Once the roots have established, they can be severed from the mother plant and moved to a new destination. After three years or so your patch or pots will begin to tire, so it is worth propagating at this stage and moving to a newly fertilised and prepared position.
- March: Sow strawberry seed indoors.
- April: Plant out bare rooted plants.
- May: Plant out strawberry seedlings.
- Lay straw around plants to protect from slugs.
- Net against birds as fruit begins to ripen.
- Water and weed regularly.
- Harvest ripe fruits.
- Cut off runners unless using to propagate.
- Cut back old foliage and remove straw.
- Decide which varieties to plant in the spring.
pests, diseases & common issues
strawberry grey mould
Grey mould is a common fungal disease that attacks the ripening fruit, particularly during rainy weather. Remove infected fruits promptly and maintain good air flow around the plants.
strawberry black eye
The centre of the flower turns dark brown or black, while the rest of the plant appears quite healthy. This is caused by frost damage to the young flower – protect from frost with cloches or horticultural fleece.
This will stunt the whole plant, and create mosaic like streaking on the leaves which will eventually turn yellow and drop off. The affected plants should be destroyed and watch out for future infestations of aphids which often spread the virus. Only buy plants from certified virus free stock.
strawberry root weevil
This pest is much more prevalent in Canada and the USA. What is more likely in the UK is the similar looking vine weevil that attacks a lot of plants including strawberries, and particularly those grown in pots. If the plant looks sickly it is worth turning out the pot and looking for the tell-tale white grubs that will be feeding off the roots. They hatch into small black beetles which then feed on the edges of leaves, making small, neat notches. If you find an infestation clean off all the grubs and repot the plant in a clean pot of fresh compost, or better still plant in the ground where the weevils have far more natural predators to prey on them.
There is nothing worse than going to pick a beautifully ripe strawberry only to find a slug has got there first. Having the strawberries held off the ground with straw does help, as does growing them in pots so that the fruit hangs over the side, well away from prowling slugs and snails. If you are growing in rows in the open ground, you can apply nematodes in the spring to control numbers or try the traditional slug traps to lure them away from your fruit with stale beer.
why are my strawberry leaves turning yellow?
This can be caused by virus (see above) but is usually caused by poor growing conditions – the soil might be low in nutrients, compacted or poorly drained. Try feeding with liquid seaweed which contains the trace elements and minerals which might be lacking. Move plants to soil that has had some grit added if you suspect that poor drainage is the problem.
why are my strawberry leaves turning red?
If the whole leaf has turned red and the whole plant is stunted with distorted fruits this could be a symptom of Strawberry Green Petal. This is caused by a mycoplasma, rather like a virus, spread by leaf hoppers. You will need to remove and burn the plants, making sure you do not propagate from them. If, as is more likely, you have red blotches with a fungal growth at the centre, you have probably got Strawberry Leaf Spot, a fungus specific to strawberry plants. Thankfully, it is not terminal and affected leaves just need trimming off and destroying, along with the surrounding straw and detritus.
why are my strawberry leaves turning brown?
Many varieties are naturally evergreen, in other words they keep some leaves all year, but consequently they also lose some all through the year. It is most likely that the brown leaves are just at the stage of dropping off, so speed them on their way by cutting off with scissors, just in case it is something more serious. Fresh young leaves should soon be along to replace it.
frequently asked questions
how far apart to plant strawberries?
Some varieties are larger than others, but as a general rule 30-45cm between plants should be fine. Leave a larger gap between the rows of 75cm so that you can walk between to pick and lay the straw underneath.
how deep to plant strawberries?
The roots want to be completely covered with soil, and usually they are quite long, so in other words the hole does want to be quite deep. But do not bury the crown as that can cause rot to set in.
how often to water strawberry plants?
Strawberries need regular watering if the weather is dry, so once a week should suffice. If they are in pots, they might need watering every day in hot weather. Do not over water as this can dilute the flavour of the fruit.
how to plant strawberry runners?
Most strawberries produce long shoots which, if left to their own devices, will root wherever they fancy and you’ll end up with a dense mass of plants rather than the neat rows you started with. They can be persuaded to root into a pot of compost by pegging them down with a piece of bent wire. Then when the plant is safely rooted in the pot you can cut it off from the mother plant and plant it exactly where you want it.
do strawberry plants spread?
They certainly do, most plants produce two or three runners at the end of the summer, poised to invade an empty piece of soil and root where they land (see above).
are strawberry plants perennials?
Yes, they are. They will last for many years, but their fruiting ability will decline after three or four years.
how big do strawberry plants get?
Each plant is unlikely to get more than 30cm in height and breadth, but they send out runners which, if allowed to root, will eventually make a dense mat of foliage that looks like a single plant several metres across.
how to overwinter strawberry plants?
Strawberries are fully hardy, so will not need any special treatment in the winter. However, if they come into flower in the early spring, they might need some frost protection. You can use cloches or horticultural fleece and they should give you an early crop.
how many strawberries per plant?
This varies hugely between varieties of strawberry. The modern commercial types are bred to crop very heavily over a short period, to make picking more economical. Whereas the perpetual strawberry will flower and fruit sporadically through the summer. Either way, you can probably expect about at least a dozen fruits per plant.
do strawberry plants need full sun?
To be able to flower and fruit properly, cultivated strawberries need full sun. Their wilder cousins, the alpine or woodland strawberry can cope with some partial shade, and produce small, dark, intensely fragrant fruit.
should I cut the leaves off my strawberry plants?
At the end of the summer, when the strawberries have finished fruiting it is a good idea to shear off the leaves to get rid of any pests and diseases that might be lurking. They will then put out fresh leaves in either autumn or spring which will feed up the plant for the next fruiting season.
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