Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits to grow in my garden and I’m sure these sweet, delicious berries are a fave of anyone who grows them. They can be eaten fresh, stored frozen or canned, made into jellies and jams, and are simply wonderful. Depending on what types of strawberries you plant, you can enjoy fruit almost all season.
According to Tufts University, strawberries are packed with vitamins, fiber, high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, and high levels of anthocyanins that reduce inflammation. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese, folate, and potassium. Just one serving of about 8 strawberries provides more vitamin C than an orange. That’s one heck of a powerful food.
Types of strawberries – which kind should you plant?
There are three types of strawberries and each produces berries of different sizes at different times of the season: June Bearing (aka spring earing), Everbearing, and Day-Neutral.
June bearing strawberries
June bearing strawberries produce large berries over a 2-3 week period every season, usually during mid-June and early July, depending on your location. Of the three types, June-bearing plants produce the largest yield per season, but over a short period of time, making them the best choice for producing jams and jellies. One June bearing plant produces a substantial amount of runners and up to 120 new daughter plants each season if left untended.
But to confuse matters, June bearing types are also classified as Early Season, Mid-Season, and Late Season. Each of the June bearing strawberry types sets fruit for a total of 10 to 14 days at a pace beginning 5-14 days after the preceding type. So if you plant a variety of these types of June bearing strawberries you can ensure a continuous crop of large berries for roughly 60 days.
Everbearing strawberries produce two crops during the season, one in spring and one in late summer or fall. Under ideal conditions, it is possible for some everbearing varieties to produce three berry harvests. In general, everbearing strawberry varieties produce fewer runners than the June bearing varieties, as most of the plants’ productive energy is directed toward producing multiple strawberry harvests. Everbearing strawberries are often planted using the hill system or in locations where space is limited.
Day-neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season and will produce a good yield in the first year they are planted. They produce only a few runners. The tradeoff to having fruit for an entire season is that day-neutral strawberry plants produce smaller berries than do the June bearing and everbearing strawberry varieties – their fruit rarely exceeds one inch.
If you have limited space, try an everbearing or day-neutral variety. These types of strawberries grow well in areas with limited space and can easily be grown in garden beds or containers or used as an edging or ground cover in edible gardens.
When to plant strawberries
Strawberries should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in spring, usually in March or April, depending on your zone and local weather. This early planting allows the plants to establish before hot weather arrives. Do not plant them if the soil is waterlogged from spring rains or melting snow.
Try to avoid planting strawberries during a cloudless, sunny day, as the sudden, direct sunlight can create transplant stress, inhibiting growth and possibly damaging the plants. They’ll do best if planted during a cloudy or overcast day. If no clouds are on the horizon, wait until late in the day and then plant.
Plant the strawberries so that the soil is just covering the tops of the roots, being careful not to cover the crown from which new growth appears. In 4-5 weeks, the plants will produce runners and new daughter plants.
Which type of strawberry is best for your area? See recommended strawberry plants by U.S. state from strawberryplants.org.
Strawberry Planting Methods
Matted Row systems
Matted rows are the best method for planting June-bearing strawberries. Plants should be initially set 18-30″ apart in rows 3-4′ apart. Let daughter plants root freely to create a new row no wider than two feet.
Spaced rows limit the number of daughter plants that grow from each mother plant. As with planting matted rows, set mother plants 18-30″ apart in rows 3-4′ apart. Daughter plants are spaced so that they root no closer than 4″ apart. All other runners are pruned from the mother plants. This method produces higher yields, larger berries, and fewer disease problems than matted rows.
Hill systems are superior for growing day-neutral and everbearing strawberries. All runners are removed in hill systems so that only the original mother plant bears fruit. This forces the mother plant to develop more crowns and flower stalks. Set plants about one foot apart in multiple rows and arrange each row in groups of two, three, or four plants with a two-foot walkway between each group of rows. During the first two or three weeks of growth, the planting should be weeded followed by mulch.
Growing strawberries in containers
Strawberries can definitely be grown successfully in containers if you follow a few simple rules. First, plant an appropriate variety for containers that doesn’t produce a lot of runner plants. It’s tempting to grow large plants that produce large berries, but they won’t do well in the limited space a container offers. Instead, choose varieties with smaller berries (day-neutral varieties usually), and plant no more than 3 plants per square foot of soil. If plants are crowded, they produce fewer and smaller berries. Also, strawberry roots are very sensitive to hot temperatures, so choose containers that are light in color and provide the containers with afternoon shade during the hottest days of the growing season. Strawberries also need plenty of water to produce those beautiful berries, so water your containers daily – during the heat of summer, you may have to water twice. The goal is to keep the soil damp, but never soggy.
If you’re going to try and grow the same strawberries again the following year in that container, keep tending your strawberry pot through the fall, as that’s when you need to maximize plant nutrition so the plant can produce fruit buds the following spring. Your strawberry pot must also be kept insulated throughout the winter. Just as the strawberry roots are sensitive to the heat of the summer, they’re also sensitive to freezing. Without the insulating properties of ground-level soil, the roots can easily be frozen in a container if left exposed to winter weather.
Strawberry planting tips:
- Strawberries prefer well-drained soil, high in organic matter.
- Site them so they receive a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Ten hours is ideal.
- Do not plant strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes were grown the previous year. Verticillium wilt is a common disease in this family of plants and is a serious threat to strawberries.
- Strawberries need about one inch of water per week during the growing season.
- After planting, remove the blossoms for the first few weeks. This helps the plant to produce leaves and roots so when the flowers are pollinated and begin to produce fruit there is enough energy in the plant to develop berries.
- When berries form, cover the strawberry patch with bird netting to protect them from birds and other wildlife.
In the fall before temperatures drop below 20 degrees, add mulch to the strawberry bed three to four inches deep (straw is best). Mulch protects the dormant strawberry plants from freezing temperatures that can kill the fruit buds which form in the fall and injure the roots and crowns. Winter mulches should be removed in early spring but left in the aisles to cover the blossoms if frost is predicted (old blankets or sheets can also be used for frost protection). Leave some of the mulch around the plants to keep the fruit from contacting the soil and to conserve soil moisture.
How to renovate strawberry beds
According to Iowa State University, “Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries should not be renovated like June-bearers. Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are most productive when the plants are maintained as large, single plants. All runners that develop on everbearing and day-neutral strawberries should be removed. Matted rows of everbearing and day-neutral strawberries are not as productive as single plants.“
Renovation is the key to keep a June-bearing strawberry bed grown in the matted row system producing for 4-5 seasons.
- Within one week after harvest, mow or prune out the old foliage, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns of the strawberry plants.
- If the leaves are disease-free, compost them or work them into the soil around the plants.
- Remove older plants and keep as many daughter plants as possible.
- Narrow the rows to 8-10″ wide and 3′ apart. (June bearing plants will develop runners and eventually form a 2-foot-wide matted row of plants by the end of summer).
- Remove weeds around plants and in between rows.
- Add 2-3″ of compost to fertilize the strawberries.
- Continue to water 1″ per week in the absence of rainfall to promote growth and bud production which occurs in late summer and fall.
Sources: University of Minnesota Extension; University of Illinois Extension; strawberryplants.org.