Strawberries are one of the summer’s quintessential fruits: sweet, brightly colored, and readily available at your favorite grocer or farmer’s market. As one of the most versatile fruits, strawberries can be blended in iced drinks, smoothies, preserves, desserts, and more! Strawberries are also an easy-to-grow plant, appropriate for practically all spaces and gardening skill levels. They can be grown in traditional gardens, raised beds, and even containers on a deck! For those of you who have more of a brown thumb than a green thumb, it is simple to master how to grow strawberries from your own home!
What Are Strawberries?
Image from Pixabay
Strawberries are one of the most popular berries in the world and cultivated across the globe. The bright red coloring of the fruit against the rich green leaves and star-shaped white flowers is instantly recognizable. Wild strawberries have been harvested since time immortal, the French identified how to grow strawberries by creating a hybrid in the 1750s. This newly created fruit was a cross of strawberries from eastern North America and Chile. Woodland strawberries had been cultivated and harvested since the early 17th century. The strawberry we know and love today is a child of this hybrid from France.
A Brief History of Strawberries
The ancient Romans were the first to mention strawberries in the written word by describing its usage for medicines and healing of ailments. Depictions of strawberry fruits and plants can be found in Italian, Flemish, German, and English artworks and even the illuminated manuscripts of 15th-century monks. The French were the first to transfer woodland and wild strawberries to their gardens and cultivate them for personal harvest. King Charles V, for example, has 1,200 strawberry plants in the royal gardens. The first written instructions about how to grow strawberries appeared in 1578, and the demand for strawberry farming grew steadily.
Worldwide Production and Consumption
As of 2016, China led the world in strawberry production with 3.8 million tonnes or 41% of the total world production. The United States followed in second place with 15% of production or 1.4 million tonnes. Many specific countries have their own particular strawberry confection; for example, strawberries and cream is a popular dessert in the United Kingdom. This dish was introduced to the court of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) by his chancellor, Thomas Wolsey.
Growth and Care of Strawberries
Despite their easy growth habits and cultivation, strawberries still need specific types of care and attention to reach full potential.
Quick Strawberry Stats
- Botanical Name: fragaria x ananassa
- Plant Type: flowering
- Mature Size: up to six inches high by 18 inches wide; plant “runners” may lengthen size
- Sun: Full sun, at least 6-10 hours of sunlight per day
- Soil Needs: Sandy, slightly acidic; well-drained. Avoid standing water.
- Bloom Time: Spring through summer
- Flower Color: white
- Hardiness: Zones 5 – 8 for perennial plants; 9 to 10 for seasonal annuals
- Special Needs: Straw will keep the fruit off the dirt and naturally deter weeds. Mulch is also appropriate as long as it’s not black; black mulch retains heat and raises the soil temperature. Straw also protects the plants during harsh winters in colder climates.
- Ideal Temperature: between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, although the plants can tolerate temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit.
Methods of Growing Strawberries
Strawberries reproduce in two ways: sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is done via the flowers of the plant which undergo pollination. A strawberry fruit is dotted with an average of 200 seeds which continue the process of growth and pollination. Asexual reproduction is when the runners of a mature strawberry plant are rooted in the soil. These plants are called “daughter plants” and have the exact genetic bearings of the mother plant. Strawberry plants should be replaced every three years or sooner if there are signs of disease or pest infestation. The soil should also be rotated with every new planting.
The growth and presentation of the fruit will vary based on the weather during the growing season. Rainy and cool spring weather can lead to soft and watery berries while the warm sun and dry periods lead to firmer and sweeter fruit. Berries should be picked with a short stub of green stem attached first thing in the morning. Berries can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for three days.
How to Grow Strawberries
Strawberry plants are hardy and tolerable of many conditions. Strawberries thrive in practically any size container or garden bed and are an easy plant to grow for a new or veteran gardener. Identifying the right climate and understanding the basics of plant growth is a great way to learn how to grow strawberries.
Types of Strawberries
Image from Amazon
Image from Amazon
Strawberry plants are available according to their fruiting habits: June-Bearing or Ever-Bearing. June-bearing strawberries, or Jewel strawberries, produce fruit over three weeks from late spring to early summer. Jewel strawberries are best for preserving due to their high quality and concentrated fruit set. Ever-bearing strawberries are also known as “Day-Neutral Strawberries” and are sold under the names of Seascape or Tristar among others. These plants produce multiple bounties of fruits throughout the growing season, until the first frost.
Where to Purchase Plants
Strawberry plants can be purchased from online or mail-order catalogs, local farmers, or garden stores. Take into consideration your growing zone and soil type before you purchase a seedling or runners to replant. By purchasing plants or seedlings from a local garden store, you will receive a certified pest-and-disease free plant and the right strawberry plant for your location. Local farmers and garden centers are also excellent places to ask questions and receive help about how to grow strawberries.
Strawberry Pests and Diseases
Image by Scot Nelson from Flickr
Despite its reputation for hardiness, a strawberry plant can still be susceptible to diseases when subjected to stress, extreme temperatures, or even incorrect watering.Diseases of the leaves include powdery mildew, leaf spot, leaf blight, and slime mold. The crown and roots of the plants are vulnerable to red steel, verticillium wilt, black root rot, and nematodes. Gray mold, rhizopus rot, or leather rot may affect the strawberry fruit. Root rot is preventable by basic care and replanting in new soil. Plants should only be watered at the root to avoid fungus growth on the leaves.There are about 200 species of pests that attack different parts of the strawberry plant. Ghost moth caterpillars, slugs, fruit flies, mites, and aphids are all known pests. There are specific insects that only attack strawberries, such as strawberry crown moths, sap beetles, root weevils, and strawberry thrips. Strawberry aphids is a specific species found only in Arizona, Argentina, and Chile. There are pesticides that prevent infestation, but there are other organic methods of control, such as harvesting of overripe or rotted fruit and picking off slugs and snails. Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids and can be purchased online and released for another natural method of pest control.
How to Plant Strawberries
Image from Pixabay
Raised beds and containers are ideal for strawberries since they promote soil drainage and allow the fruit to be harvested easily. However, it is equally possible to grow strawberries in a garden plot. Choose a well-lit spot that will give your strawberries an ideal 8 hours of full sunlight per day. Depending on your growing zone, you can plant your strawberries after the last frost in March or April.If you purchase dormant plants from a nursery or garden shop, remove any dead leaves and spread the roots out for airflow. Dig a hole wide enough and deep enough to spread the roots out without crushing them. The crown of the plant should sit at the soil line and the hole filled in with soil. Never water the leaves of the plant! This could lead to fungus and leaf diseases. Water at the base of the plant at the soil line.Space requirements between plants depend on the type and variety. Strawberry plants that produce runners should be planted 18 inches apart; plants without runners need 12 inches between them. Some plants only need 8 inches of space in containers. Mulch between the plants with straw, chopped leaves, pine needles, or natural store-bought mulch. The mulch will also add a further layer of protection against frost or over-watering. Consistently check your plant beds for weeds or pests and prune runners or flowers as necessary. Pruning flowers and runners can encourage further growth of the plant and more bountiful fruit harvest.
Growing strawberry plants is a relaxing and enjoyable hobby for all ages and all levels of gardening expertise. It is also a great way to teach children about creating self-sustaining harvests! It is important to first identify the ideal plants for your specific growing zone to ensure you have the healthiest and bountiful harvest. Try planting several types of strawberries to experience and savor the different flavors and varieties. Nothing compares to enjoying your own homegrown strawberry and experimenting with creating desserts and dishes! Store-bought strawberries are woefully inadequate compared to a fresh strawberry from your own garden. Enjoy!