Growing strawberries is pretty easy. With some basic knowledge and care, you’ll soon have a super-productive strawberry patch and, with some clever cultivar selections, you’ll get the longest possible harvesting period. Even if you’re not familiar with how to grow strawberries, you’ll find all the information you need right here.
Sun-ripened strawberries picked fresh are the essence of summer. Sweet and fragrant, these aromatic fruits are delicious, loved by children and adults alike. And they’re versatile – they work beautifully in a pie with rhubarb, stewed with blueberries to add to yogurt, pureed, mixed with honey, and dehydrated for tasty little natural candies, turned into jam, or blended with milk and frozen to make strawberry milkshake ice lollies. And, of course, they’re nutritional powerhouses, packed full of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. Whether you’re growing a few strawberry plants in a hanging basket, have devoted a square foot patch in your backyard, or have a sizable piece of property to grow on, this guide to growing strawberries will set you in good stead. We’ll look at everything from selecting the right plants to common pests and diseases, and how to control them naturally.
Best Strawberry Varieties to Plant
Interestingly, strawberries are part of the rose family, along with apples and hawthorns. If you pay attention, you’ll see the strong similarities between their flowers, even though strawberries are low-growing herbaceous plants, while roses are tall and sprawling, and apples and hawthorns are trees. There are too many strawberry cultivars to list, but choosing the right varieties is the key to successfully growing strawberries and getting the biggest fruit yield. There are three primary things to take into consideration when choosing strawberry cultivars:
- Which strawberry varieties grow best in your area?
- Choose strawberry cultivars to maximize the harvesting season
- How much space do you have for growing strawberries?
Now, you obviously want tasty specimens, but you also want those that perform well in your local area. If possible, talk to other local produce growers and see which varieties they recommend. You may even be able to buy or barter for some healthy strawberry plants – either maidens or runners – to get you started. You’ve got four types of strawberries to choose from.
- Alpine strawberries, or wild strawberries, are comparatively small, compact plants that produce large quantities of small, intensely flavorful berries from mid to late summer.
- June-bearing strawberry varieties produce a large quantity of big fruits over a shorter period, from early to mid-summer.
- Ever-bearing strawberries, also known as perpetual-fruiting strawberries, produce fruit in regular flushes from early summer to early autumn. Ever-bearing cultivars are a good choice if you don’t have a lot of growing space but want the longest possible harvest.
- Day-neutral strawberries produce smaller fruits than June-bearing varieties but they do fruit for long periods in some locations. They set fruit between 35 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so in some areas will produce berries right into October. They are pretty compact plants, so do well as container strawberries, although, like all fruiting plants, potting them will reduce their yield.
My favorite way to get strawberries that thrive in your area is to speak to your neighbors. See if they’ve got any runners or bare root strawberry plants they’ll let you buy or barter. If they’ve been successfully growing these varieties for a number of years, you’ll know for certain you’re getting strawberry plants that will grow well in your location, assuming you have similar soil and climatic conditions as the folks you buy from. If, however, this isn’t possible, I’ve put together a short list of strawberry varieties that tend to grow well. And remember, if you’re looking for the longest harvest period, I strongly recommend growing a mix of all four types. This will give you a lovely crop of berries of different sizes and flavors for the longest possible period, and provide you with a good glut of summer fruits for jams and preserves.
Fragaria vesca – Alpine Strawberries
Fragaria vesca are a type of wild strawberry, also known as European strawberry or woodland strawberry. These small, compact little plants are pretty hardy and, unlike most strawberries, do fairly well in partial to heavy shade. You’ll often find them used as ornamentals beneath trees and other taller plants. The berries are sweet but tart and intensely flavorful.
Earliglow strawberries are vigorous plants that produce an abundance of large, deep red fruits. These June-bearing strawberries put off a huge number of runners, too, so your crop yield will increase year on year, and you’ll likely have enough to make a little extra cash by selling off the runners or maiden plants. Earliglows are popular with pick-your-own operations because of their vigorous growth, large fruits, and resistance to diseases like red stele and verticillium wilt. You’ll get the best results from this type of strawberry plant in zones 4 to 7.
Jewel strawberries are another excellent June-bearing choice. These strawberry plants produce medium-large fruits that have an intense aroma and flavor. Comparatively small and compact, these self-pollinating plants produce firm, tasty, bright red berries that eat and freeze well. Their firmness also makes them a great choice for jams and preserves. Jewel strawberries are a great choice for high yields from a small space, they’re also cold-hardy and resistant to leaf spot and scorch. This strawberry cultivar performs best in zones 4 to 8.
Tristar strawberries are prized for their intense, sweet flavor and bright, glossy red fruits. They’re day-neutral, too, so if you only have room to grow one variety, this is a smart choice, as you’ll get a heavy crop in June, a lighter crop during mid-summer, then a larger crop in the fall. Cold-hardy and self-pollinating, tristar strawberries are disease-resistant and are known for their hardiness, so they’re great for beginners, too. Choose tristar strawberries for a long crop in limited space in zones 4 to 8.
How to Grow Strawberries from Seed
Although it’s much easier to grow strawberries from runners or to buy maiden plants, as long as you give them plenty of care, you can grow strawberries from seed. In fact, if you’ve just enjoyed beautifully ripe, juicy berries from your neighbor or from a locally grown source, you can grow strawberries from the scraps of those you just gobbled. However, it’s worth noting that if the berry is a hybrid strain, it may be sterile, might not produce plants that are true to form, or may produce plants that don’t bear much fruit. Heirloom varieties and some newer F1 cultivars are the better option if you’re growing strawberries from seed. Check out Amazon’s selection of strawberry seeds for sale here.
Cold Treating Strawberry Seeds
If you’re starting with seeds, check whether your particular variety requires cold treating. This isn’t remotely difficult – it just means you’ll have a bit of a delay between getting and planting your seeds. If you do need to cold-treat your seeds, lay your seeds out in an airtight container. You can wrap them, place them in lightly dampened sand, or on kitchen paper. Close the lid and place them in the freezer for 4 weeks. This simulates winter conditions, during which time the seeds lay dormant. After 4 weeks, take them out of the freezer, leaving them in their box, to come up to room temperature on their own. This simulates the coming of spring and lets your seeds know it’s time to grow.
Planting Strawberry Seeds
Prepare a seed tray by placing a half-inch layer of nutrient-rich seed starting medium, whether that’s a peat-free organic compost or a blend you make yourself from your own compost, some coir, and some perlite or vermiculite. Lightly water the potting compost until it’s evenly damp, but not soaked or waterlogged. Thinly sprinkle the strawberry seeds over the surface of the starting mix, then sprinkle a very fine dusting of the starting mix over the top of the seeds, without completely covering them. Make sure you don’t cover the seeds entirely – they need to be exposed to light. Place the tray in a greenhouse or indoors in direct sunlight for two to three weeks.
Caring For Your Strawberry Seedlings
Make sure the soil stays damp and the tray gets plenty of warmth and light. Because strawberry seeds germinate better when exposed to extra warmth, putting the tray on a heat pad or even on top of your refrigerator can help start germination. You can also use a grow light to increase light exposure.
Thinning out and Potting On
Once the seedlings emerge and reach between one and two inches, you can thin them, keeping the strongest, most vigorous strawberry seedlings. Keep them warm and well-watered until they have three true leaves. At this point, you can pot them on into roomier pots filled with nutrient-rich compost.
Planting in final position
Once they’re a bit more robust, you can move them to their final position. It’s important, however, that you harden them off, first, to acclimate them to being outdoors. Wait until the temperature outside is consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and move your young strawberry plants outdoors for a couple of hours a day, gradually increasing their outdoor time until you’re only bringing them indoors at night. Then they’re ready for planting in their final position. Remember, they need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
How to Grow Strawberries from Runners
Growing strawberries from runners or starts is the easiest method. Strawberries are vigorous growers and they’ll quickly take root. There are a couple of different methods you can adopt for growing strawberries from runners. The matted row system is the more natural variant and is a good choice if you’ve got plenty of space and plants, like most June bearing cultivars, that produce lots of runners. You start off with single plants spaced around 2 feet apart, with 4 feet between rows. Then you simply let the plants do their thing. Each year, each plant will produce a number of runners which will trail and root freely, eventually creating a matted row or strawberry patch. Using the matted row method will definitely give you the highest strawberry yield, but the berries could be smaller because of the denser foliage. This method requires minimal effort on your part, but you’ll need to keep an eye out for disease or infestation as the plants grow and reproduce, as the denser foliage can encourage damp conditions that leads to problems.
Eventually, of course, you’ll still need to thin the rows, removing the latest daughter plants, leaving at least six inches between plants, or, thin ruthlessly to renew the bed, removing the oldest and youngest plants, and leaving 12 to 24 inches between each plant. The hill system is a good choice for strawberries that produce fewer runners and requires more maintenance and care but, because it ensures plants have more space, berries tend to be larger. Create a hill of soil about 8 inches high and 2 feet across, and space the strawberry plants along each side of the row, in a staggered pattern, 12 inches apart. Make each hill as long as you need and, if you need more than one hill, leave 4 feet between each one. As soon as you see runners appear, remove them. This keeps all the reproductive potential within the mother plant and eventually results in one or two lateral crowns appearing right next to the mother. The mother will also show more vigorous growth and produce more fruiting stems and a higher overall yield.
Where to Plant Strawberries
You’ll get the most fruit by planting strawberries in well-prepared soil, but you can also get creative, growing strawberries in containers, in pallets, in vertical gardens, PVC, hanging baskets, and more. If you’re growing your strawberries in the ground, make sure you clear the area and remove as many weeds as possible, along with slugs, snails, and woodlouse, and grubs. Work a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure into the patch. You want the soil to be mildly acidic for the best strawberry yield, so you can also add an organic acidic fertilizer like coffee grounds. When choosing where to grow strawberries, you need to consider how well the soil drains, or if you can improve drainage with plenty of organic matter, and how much direct sunlight the area gets. Strawberries can grow with 6 hours of full sun but do far better with 10 hours or more.
How to Plant Strawberries
It’s pretty easy to plant strawberries, but there are a few things you need to be aware of. Firstly, don’t plant them when it’s sunny – wait until it’s overcast and late afternoon – this gives them the best start as they’re able to begin to establish themselves without overheating. Make sure the soil is nice and loose in the top 8 inches of your strawberry patch to give the roots room to spread and take hold. Dig a hole wide enough to comfortably accommodate the roots, place the plant in, and start to fill in the hole. Make sure that the crown – the growth at the very top of the roots from which the stems emerge – sits level with the top of the soil. Planting too shallowly results in the roots drying out before they get established, but if you plant too deeply and bury the crown, you’ll damage the plant, often beyond recovery. Once you’ve got the plants situated correctly, with the crown resting on top of the soil, gently firm all around, then water lightly.
Caring for Strawberry Plants
Now you’ve gone to all the trouble of planting your strawberries, you want to get the most fruit from them, and to do that, you’ve got to take proper care of them. Start by mulching the strawberry bed with straw. You can also use pine needles or shredded leaves. Mulching helps keep the ripening fruit off the soil, reducing the risk of rot. It also keeps the soil cool and damp and helps to suppress weeds. Now comes the bad bit – well, not bad, but it will go against your instincts. In the first year, remove every flower bud. Yes, your instincts are telling you to nurture every bud into ripe, delicious berries, but don’t – not in a plant’s first year. Be ruthless and remove them. Doing this puts all the energy that would’ve gone into producing fruits into growing stronger, healthier plants and runners, giving you far more berries every year after.
Watering Strawberry Plants
While strawberries don’t like really wet conditions, they are thirsty plants, and to thrive, they need a moist environment. Their roots are pretty shallow, so drought or waterlogged soil can kill them quickly. Water the strawberries daily, but don’t drench them. And only provide water when it’s overcast or late in the day to avoid burning the leaves.
Fertilizing Strawberry Plants
As I mentioned, strawberries like slightly acidic soil, and they’ll benefit from regular fertilizing. I recommend fertilizing the rows before you plant the strawberries, then again six weeks later. Don’t apply any more fertilizer until August or after the fruiting has finished for the season. For every year after, only apply fertilizer every 4-6 weeks between June and September. This is, of course, based on using organic, homemade fertilizer. Check out our 9 organic fertilizers you can make at home, for free. If you plan on using commercial fertilizer, which I don’t advise, you’ll need to follow a different fertilization schedule.
Protecting Your Strawberry Plants
Just about everything loves strawberries. Birds, rodents, insects, and wild mammals all adore strawberries and will quickly decimate your ripening fruit. Even my dog enjoys a ripe, juicy strawberry! Although to be fair, he doesn’t raid the plants. Unfortunately, the wildlife doesn’t have the same good manners, so you’ve got to protect your strawberries from all angles. I suggest making a frame around them and covering it with bird netting or reasonably fine-meshed wire. But remember bees and other pollinators need to get in there to pollinate the flowers. To ward off mice and rats, dig the netting or wire into the ground around the perimeter. There are a few different methods you can employ to keep slugs away from strawberries naturally.
Harvesting strawberries is easy – you just have to be gentle, as the fruits are easy to damage when ripe. Wait until the strawberries are fully turned, then leave them on the plants an extra day or two to fully mature. To take the strawberry off the plant, use the nails of your thumb and forefinger to break the stem just above the fruit. Don’t pull on the fruit itself, as you’ll end up disengaging the cap, which means the fruits won’t keep well. Once off the plant, pop them straight in the fridge.
Common Strawberry Plant Diseases
Strawberries are susceptible to a whole range of diseases, including:
|Angular leaf spot||Bacterial wilt||Cauliflower disease|
|Downy mildew||Alternaria fruit rot||Anthracnose|
|Black leaf spot||Anther blight||Armillaria crown and root rot|
|Black root rot||Diplodina rot||Cercospora leaf spot|
|Brown cap||Fruit blotch||Hainesia leaf spot|
|Phomopsis leaf blight||Charcoal spot||Common leaf spot|
|Hard brown rot||Leaf blotch||Leaf rust|
|Scorch||Leather rot||Powdery mildew|
|Botrytis rot||Purple leaf spot||Verticillium wilt|
Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.
Anthracnose is caused by a species of fungus called Colletotrichum. It generally attacks plants during spring as it thrives in cool, wet conditions. You’ll notice small lesions on the strawberry plant leaves and stems that are dark and sunken. This fungal leaf spot disease also causes small tan spots on the underside of leaves. There’s no natural cure for anthracnose, so prevention and management are the only effective options. Firstly, remove weeds and grass from around your strawberries, as this encourages good air flow. Apply plenty of straw mulch and clear the area of dead leaves and twigs, as this is where the fungus overwinters. When you water the strawberries, be gentle and water them without the water bouncing back from the soil and hitting the plants, as this spreads the spores. If anthracnose does appear, remove the infected leaves and burn them. If you haven’t caught it early enough, you’ll need to remove and burn the whole plant.
Leaf scorch on strawberries isn’t actually scorch – you didn’t accidentally water your plants while in strong sunlight and “scorch” the leaves. In fact, scorch is caused by a fungus called Diplocarpon earliana. You’ll start to notice purplish blemishes on the tops of the leaves. These spots will grow and darken as the disease progresses and can lead to leaves drying up and falling off. Just like with anthracnose, the key is prevention and intervention, starting with good garden sanitation practices. It’s very basic. This fungus, like many other pathogens, overwinters on dead leaves and organic matter, so make sure you remove any fallen leaves from around the plants. Remember to weed carefully and apply a fresh layer of mulch, too, as this ensures healthy moisture retention in the soil and plenty of airflow around the plants. Drip irrigation is another great way to ensure consistently moist conditions while limiting the spread of spores.
Botrytis rot can present as botrytis fruit rot, botrytis crown rot, or both. Another common fungal disease of strawberries, it’s also commonly known as gray mold. On berries, it appears as a small gray lesion most commonly around the calyx that quickly turns into areas of velvety gray mold. The infection spreads rapidly, leaving the berry coated in a gray-brown covering of millions of mold spores that spread at the slightest touch or lightest breeze. At RSS, we obviously don’t condone the use of chemicals to control diseases. Instead, we promote preventing disease and learning how to manage it naturally. This same fungus can infect the crowns of strawberry plants, covering the stems and the crown itself with gray mold and quickly killing the plant. Botrytis rot, whether it’s attacking the fruit or the crowns of strawberry plants, needs a damp, still environment to thrive, hence it’s commonly seen in crops grown under row covers to protect against the cold.
To prevent this disease, make sure there’s plenty of space between each plant and, if you know this strawberry disease is prevalent in your area, make sure you plant your strawberries in a windy location, as the wind dries surface moisture, which reduces the prevalence of botrytis fungus. As with other fungal pathogens, combat them by practicing good garden hygiene, keeping your plants in peak health, and generally making the environment inhospitable to pathogens. If you spot signs of infection, get a paper bag and place over the affected fruit or plant – this helps stop the mold spores spreading to other plants as you remove the damaged plants. Cut the fruit off or lift the whole plant and burn it, paper bag and all – but do it well away from your strawberry patch.
Common Strawberry Plant Pests
All kinds of insects can wreak havoc on your strawberry crops, attacking both the plants and the fruit. To keep off birds and rodents, you can use netting or wire, but you can’t do insect netting, because you need pollinators to get in, so you can’t use insect netting.
Common strawberry pests include:
|Strawberry root weevils||Aphids||Armyworms|
|Meadow spittlebugs||Tarnished plant bugs||Sap beetles|
|Slugs and snails||Two-spotted spider mite||Japanese beetle|
|Loopers||Birds and rodents||Thrips|
Let’s take a closer look at a few of these common strawberry pests.
Strawberry Root Weevils
Strawberry root weevils include several species of Otiorhynchus, with the black vine weevil, Otiorhynchus sulcatus being the most common. Whatever the species, the adults are between 8 and 12 mm long and reddish brown to black. Larvae of all species are pale with tan heads, legless, and, and C-shaped. Adult weevils chomp on the strawberry leaves, which presents as very obvious notching in the leaves. While this is annoying, unless the infestation is severe, the damage is minor and the plants can recover. It’s the larvae that do the real damage. These ugly little critters overwinter at the base of the strawberry plants, beneath the soil, where they feast on the roots. This leads to a significant drop in fruit production, stunted plants, and eventually plant death. Look for signs of the presence of adults by the notching in the leaves. On still evenings, go outside and look for the beetles themselves, eating your plants. If you’ve got adults, you’ll soon have larvae.
To reduce the presence of larvae, cultivate the soil around your plants in spring. You can also use a cover crop, such as small grains, as these aren’t hosts for strawberry root weevils and can deter the larvae. If you want to control the adult population, use natural pest control. You can even grow your own chrysanthemums, harvest, dry, and crush them, mix with DE, and apply to your strawberry plants. However, remember that pesticides, even one made from flowers, are indiscriminate – they can’t tell the difference between a bad bug and a good one – they simply kill whatever comes into contact with them. If you choose to go this way, using your own chrysanthemums to get pyrethrum, spray it at dusk in cool weather for the greatest efficacy against root weevils and less chance of harming bees.
Aphids are notorious garden pests, and they’re annoyingly hardy, so pesticides, even natural ones like pyrethrum, aren’t very effective. So you’ve got to control them in other ways. Encourage predators like ladybirds, grow trap crops, or plant alliums – leeks, onions, and garlic – among your strawberries, as aphids really hate the smell. See our post on how to control aphids naturally for more details and ideas.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails. Slimy, greedy, and so destructive. They’ll ruin every berry in a strawberry patch is you don’t keep them in check. We don’t use chemical pesticides, insecticides, or slug and snail bait, obviously, and we encourage you not to, either. Sure, they’re effective, but they kill other beneficial insects, and they kill a lot of useful wildlife, too, not to mention the risk they pose to pets and children. And do you really want that toxic residue in the soil and potentially leaching into the fruit you plan to eat? Doubtful. They also create an unbalanced ecosystem and long term actually make your slug problem worse. There are so many natural ways to control slugs and snails that chemicals really aren’t necessary. Employ a mix of natural defenses like companion planting, trap crops, beer traps, slug-loving livestock, and a range of deterrents to keep slugs and snails away from your strawberries (and other edible plants).
There are many species of spittlebugs, with the meadow spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius, being the most common in the Northern hemisphere. They overwinter as eggs which are laid by adults on host plants during late fall. They aren’t terribly damaging to most plants, unless the infestation is particularly severe, where you’ll notice stunted growth. However, spittlebugs on strawberries can result in fewer and significantly smaller fruits or inferior quality, so it’s important to get rid of as many as possible. It’s the spittlebug nymphs that cause the most problems, as they pierce the plant stems and suck out the nutritious liquid. And it’s the nymphs that are inside the infamous “spittle” that gives these bugs their common name. This foam protects the nymphs from predators, pesticides, and dehydration, but on the plus side, it makes them very obvious, even to the untrained eye. And they’re pretty easy to manage naturally, too.
From late April, start looking for patches of foam, particularly on the underside of young leaves and at the base or on the stems of plants. If your plants are established and mature enough, spray them with a fairly strong blast of water to remove the foam and dislodge the nymphs. You can also simply wipe them away with your hands. You can discourage infestation by keeping weeds at bay, as spittlebugs love many weed varieties, particularly thistles and buttercups. Remember, chemical or natural treatments don’t work against spittlebug nymphs because of their protective foam, so you have to employ other natural methods.
Now you know how to grow strawberries, you’re sure to have a bountiful crop, so you need to know what to do with them, apart from devouring them right off the plant or with a bowl of cream. So I’ve put together some of my favorite recipes from around the web.
- 5 Easy Strawberry Jam Recipes
- Strawberry Wine
- 5 Ways to Use Strawberry Tops
- Strawberry Syrup From Strawberry Tops
- 3-ingredient Strawberry Sherbet
- Strawberry Salsa
- Strawberry Compote
- Strawberry Cobbler with Gluten-Free Corn Masa Topping
- Strawberry Mead
- Grilled Strawberry Semifreddo with Pistachios & Balsamic
- Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
- Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Strawberry Scones
- Gluten-Free, Vegan Strawberry Quick Bread
- Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast
- Hearts of Palm Strawberry Summer Salad
It’s really not that tough to grow strawberries, particularly if you start with runners. But if you really want to start from scratch, this ultimate guide to growing strawberries walks you through how to grow strawberries from seeds, too. With strawberries, it’s crucial that you choose the right varieties and the planting location with care and that you prepare the strawberry patch properly, adding plenty of organic matter if drainage needs improving and ensuring the soil is nutrient-rich and slightly acidic. Get growing! Use this guide to growing strawberries to maximize your fruit yield, then try out some of the recipes we’ve included to use up your bumper crop.
Got a question about growing strawberries that we’ve missed? Ask us! Got any tips and tricks for growing the best strawberries that you’d like to share? Leave us a comment!
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