Learning to plant strawberries in your garden is both fun and rewarding. Juicy, sweet and bursting with old-fashioned strawberry flavor, homegrown berries straight from your backyard patch are hard to beat. Though often thought of as tricky to cultivate, strawberries are actually a very approachable fruit for home gardeners to grow. With smart preparation, planting, attentive care and harvesting at optimal ripeness, even novice growers can reap impressive results from a modest strawberry planting. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about successfully planting and growing bountiful crops of this delicious fruit.
Selecting the Best Strawberry Varieties
An excellent place to start is choosing which strawberry types and cultivars are best suited to your climate and intended use. There are several main categories to consider:
June Bearing – The most common traditional strawberry types. June-bearers initiate flower buds in fall, overwinter them, then produce one large crop of berries over 2-3 weeks in early summer. They have large, conical berries and impressive yields. Leading cultivars include ‘Chandler’, ‘Sweet Charlie’, ‘Allstar’, and ‘Earliglow’.
Everbearing – As their name suggests, everbearing strawberries produce fruit repeatedly in smaller flushes throughout the growing season rather than one big harvest. They initiate flower buds spring through fall. Everbearers bear decent sized berries and maintain modest yields over an extended period. Top performers include ‘Ozark Beauty’, ‘Quinault’, and ‘Seascape’.
Alpine – Alpine strawberries produce smaller yet exceptionally sweet, intense berries continuously from spring until fall. Their compact growth makes them ideal for container growing. Check out cultivars like ‘Alexandria’, ‘Alpine Yellow’, and ‘Yellow Wonder’.
Day Neutral – Day neutral strawberries are unique in their ability to initiate flower buds and fruit regardless of day length. They yield ripe berries perpetually all season long into late fall. ‘Tristar’ and ‘Tribute’ give excellent harvests from small plantings.
Within each category, look for disease-resistant cultivars that produce well in your particular growing zone. Consult with your local nursery to select plants or bare-root crowns suited to your climate. Mixing early, mid and late season types extends overall harvest duration.
Knowing the Best Times for Planting Strawberries
Beyond variety selection, timing the planting properly ensures strawberry crops get established and produce an optimal harvest:
Spring – Early spring planting is widely recommended, as soon as the ground can be worked and the danger of frost has passed in your area. Plantings done in March/April will establish well and bear a nice first year crop.
Summer – It is best to avoid planting strawberries during the hottest summer months of July and August. High temperatures and drought stress newly planted strawberries.
Fall – September and October are excellent planting times to get plants established so they can initiate flower buds before the ground freezes. They take off quickly the following spring.
Winter – Strawberry planting is not recommended when soils are frozen in winter or plants are fully dormant. Wait until the ground thaws and new growth emerges in spring.
To maximize results, schedule spring and fall plantings to align with the beginning of each growing season in your particular climate.
Preparing Strawberry Planting Beds
Investing effort in proper ground preparation prior to planting is essential for providing strawberry plants the growing conditions they require to thrive:
Site Selection – Choose a level, well-draining sunny spot in your yard. Strawberries need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for robust growth and maximum fruit production. Avoid shady areas.
Soil Preparation – Loosen and turn over the soil to a depth of 10-12 inches to allow extensive root development. Thoroughly mix 2-4 inches of aged compost into the top layer to nourish plants, improve drainage and moisture retention.
Soil pH – Test soil pH and amend as needed to reach the ideal slightly acidic range of 5.5-6.5. Strawberries prefer more acidic conditions. Sulfur can help lower pH if too alkaline.
Raised Beds – Forming raised beds about 12-18 inches high improves drainage while protecting root systems and berries from soil contact and rot. Leave 3-4 feet between beds.
Irrigation – Ensure drip irrigation tubes or soaker hoses reach throughout the entire bed area to conveniently supply consistent moisture as needed.
Investing effort in nurturing the soil, nutrition and growing conditions ahead of planting gives your strawberry crop the best start possible.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Planting Strawberries
Once your planting beds are prepped and conditions are optimal for growth, follow these simple steps to get your strawberry plants in the ground:
1. Soak Bare-Root Plants – If planting bare-root crowns, submerge them in water for 2-3 hours upon arrival so the roots fully rehydrate before transplanting.
2. Dig Holes – Use a trowel to dig holes 12-15 inches apart in organized rows within the prepared bed. Group plants of the same variety together.
3. Place Plants – Carefully place each crown or transplant into its hole, taking care not to damage delicate roots. The crown tip (growing point) should be just at or slightly above soil level.
4. Backfill Soil – Shovel soil back around plants to fill holes, firming it gently to support the plant but avoiding compressing roots. Leave the crown exposed.
5. Water Thoroughly – Water freshly planted beds deeply to moisten surrounding soil and help new roots establish without drying out. Avoid wetting foliage.
6. Apply Mulch – Place 2-3 inches of clean straw, pine needles, leaves or other organic mulch material over beds. This conserves moisture, feeds plants and suppresses weeds.
By taking care not to overcrowd plants or bury crowns too deeply, your strawberries will get off to the healthiest start possible. Now it’s time to nurture them!
Providing Ongoing Care for Strawberry Plants
Giving your strawberry planting attentive care and maintenance throughout the seasons keeps plants healthy, productive and yields bountiful fruit year after year:
Watering – Supply around 1-2 inches of water per week from planting through harvest, tapering off after berries finish. Avoid wetting leaves. Use efficient drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
Fertilizing – Apply balanced organic fertilizer or compost monthly from planting until August each year. Look for lower nitrogen mixes. Fish emulsion, kelp and bone meal are great options.
Weed Control – Keep beds vigilantly weed-free to prevent pests and competition, especially when plants are young. Hand pull weeds or apply fresh straw as needed.
Harvesting – Pick berries when fully red and swollen, plucking the stem just above the berry. Harvest every 2-3 days during peak season to encourage more flowers.
Yearly Renovation – After the last harvest, mow old leaves, narrow rows, replenish mulch and fertilize beds to promote new growth and higher yields.
Protection – Guard plants from frost, diseases, insect pests, slugs, birds and other wildlife with protective covers, fences and organic sprays.
Consistent soil moisture, nutrition and protection from threats ensures your strawberry planting remains healthy and bountiful for years on end.
Troubleshooting Common Strawberry Plant Problems
Strawberry plants can occasionally suffer setbacks from diseases, pests and environmental stresses that impact their vigor and ability to fruit. Watch for these common issues:
Leaves Turning Brown or Curling – These symptoms often indicate fungal leaf scorch or leaf blight diseases, exacerbated by excess moisture on foliage. Improve air circulation and drainage. Remove and destroy affected leaves.
Whole Plants Stunted or Rapidly Dying – Could signal verticillium wilt infection. Uproot and dispose of infected plants immediately to prevent spread. Avoid replanting in same beds.
Leaves Exhibiting Spots, Holes or Silvery Trails – Caused by common culprits like leaf spot, angular leaf spot, slugs, or leafminer damage. Prune badly infected leaves. Apply neem oil or insecticidal soap spray.
Berries with Chew Marks, Holes or Scarring – Likely from insect pests such as earwigs, slugs, snails, or fruit flies. Promptly remove and dispose of damaged fruit. Set out traps and treat with diatomaceous earth.
Whitish, Hard Berries or Shriveling – Results from sun scald due to excess heat exposure or inadequate water. Provide shade cloth over plants during hot afternoons. Maintain diligent watering.
Catching problems early allows for timely treatment to minimize losses and protect remaining healthy plants.
Best Practices for Harvesting and Storing Strawberries
Follow these tips and techniques for maximum enjoyment of your homegrown strawberry harvest:
- Pick berries in early morning when both temperatures and sugar levels peak for unrivaled flavor.
- Choose fully ripened berries that easily detach from the stem when lightly pulled. Discard any moldy, under ripe or damaged fruit.
- Harvest every 2-3 days during peak season. Frequent picking stimulates more flower bud development and fruit production.
- Gently place freshly picked berries directly into shallow containers. Avoid crushing or bruising delicate fruit.
- Leave caps on during harvesting to prevent moisture loss. Do not wash until ready to eat or process. Unwashed berries store better.
- For storage, arrange unwashed berries in a single layer on a paper towel lined container. Refrigerate promptly for 3-5 days max.
- Freeze excess ripe berries flat in a single layer on a cookie sheet before transferring to bags or containers to prevent clumping.
- Enjoy berries at their peak ripeness and flavor soon after picking for the best eating and nutritional quality.
With optimal harvest timing and careful post-harvest handling, you can enjoy garden-fresh strawberries year-round.
With smart preparation, care and attentive harvesting, a thriving backyard strawberry patch is an achievable goal for gardeners. The mouthwatering promise of picking your own sun-warmed, juicy berries bursting with sweetness and complex flavor is a compelling incentive to try your hand at strawberry cultivation. Follow this guide’s tips on selecting top varieties, ideal planting times, nurturing growing conditions, managing pests, and harvesting perfectly ripened fruit. With a bit of effort, your modest strawberry garden can yield impressive results. The glowing satisfaction of filling your home with buckets of fresh, homegrown strawberries is a gardening joy like no other.