Strawberries can be grown in the ground, in hanging baskets or in containers. They are simple to grow and an easy and delicious place for kids to start their gardening journey.
They come in early, mid and late season varieties so if you choose your plants carefully you can have strawberries on tap throughout the summer. Not only will you save money at the supermarket but you will have fresher, tastier strawberries too.
How to Start your Strawberries
Strawberries can be grow from seed, runners or small plants bought at the Garden Centre. It should be noted that they produce their best fruit when they are in their second and third years so however you start them, do not expect much in the first year. Whichever one you choose they need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation.
Growing from Seed
Check your seed packet for instructions but many strawberry seeds need to be cold treated before they will germinate. To do this, place the seeds, in an airtight container, and put it in a freezer for 2 to 4 weeks. This simulates winter so once they thaw the seeds are fooled into coming to life. Remove the seeds from the freezer and leave them to gradually warm up to room temperature.
Once your strawberry seeds are at room temperature you can plant them in a seed tray filled with suitable compost. Moisten the mixture with water and sprinkle your strawberry seeds evenly over it. Cover them with a light dusting of soil ensuring that some light can still reach them as they need it to germinate. Keep them indoors in a well-lit room and in direct sunlight. They should germinate in two to three weeks.
Keep the soil moist and keep the tray somewhere warm. On top of a fridge or with a heat pad underneath are both good options. Gently transfer the strawberry seedlings to larger containers or pots after they gain their 3rd leaves.
If weather allows, the strawberry seedlings can be planted directly outside after hardening off first.
Growing from Runners
Strawberries are so easy to propagate (to have babies – reproduce). After the harvesting season you will notice that off the strawberry plant there is a shoot or 'runner'. This will often have a baby strawberry plant developing on the end. When this shoot has rooted itself to the ground you can a) leave it there b) move it to a better spot c) replace an old plant with it d) give it away if you don’t want it! Most gardeners are happy to pass these runners on to others and spread the strawberry love so its a great way to start your strawberry patch.
Growing from plants
The easiest thing to do is to buy some strawberry plants, usually during the early Spring, and then to plant them out.
Prepare the soil well. Fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart. You could use an EasyPath between rows to allow easy access for picking.
If you don’t have the space for strawberries don’t forget that you can plant them in patio planters, this can be quite good as you can move them to warm spots or even encourage more fruit by placing the whole thing in a greenhouse. They are really striking in hanging baskets and only dare-devil slugs and snails will make the journey meaning your ripening fruit is safer here than anywhere else.
As soon as the flowers finish, the first tiny green strawberries start to appear or “set”. Make sure you weed carefully and now is the time to set up your slug protection, such as SlugBusters. You may also want to protect the strawberries from rotting by placing some straw underneath, I don’t seem to need to do this myself as my patch is fairly dry but if your patch isn't, this will keep them off the damp ground.
If your plants are in containers they will need watering but if your plants are in the ground then avoid watering after flowering if possible. Damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it first thing in the morning so that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.
Strawberry plants don't last forever and will only last around 4 seasons. After this both yield and flavour will drop so they should be replaced. To grow your own replacements, leave a few of this years plants un-pruned and peg down the resulting runners to the soil. They will grow into new plants ready for next year.
Pests & Diseases
Beware of birds, once they find a supply of yummy ripe strawberries, they will be gone in a matter of hours. Cover them with plant protection nets before they start to ripen. Also beware of slugs they are much slower in their approach but also enjoy strawberries.
Harvesting & Storage
The first harvest of your strawberries will be delicious and sweet, towards the end of the season I find that they are not quite as good and this is when I collect them for jam making. Yum.
I'm not a fan of frozen strawberries - too mushy - but if you have a glut and don't want to make jam then they can be frozen. Place them in the freezer individually on a tray, when frozen pack them up into bags.