How to Grow Strawberries: Best Tips and Tricks For Tons of Strawberries!


Our first strawberry harvest of the 2015 season from June week 1 2 days later I harvested twice as much!
I've been busy lately refinishing our kitchen floor and trying to get our garden going, so I haven't had time to blog about our garden.  So this is the first of many new garden post to come, also the first post in a new series I will be doing this summer "Tips and Tricks to Grow Fruits and Veggies".  Instead of giving a detailed progress report of what we are growing every few weeks to a month like I do every year.  I plan to give a few garden tours this season, and highlight what is currently in season with a list of my tricks and tips for growing them I've learned over the years, along with my favorite recipes for that fruit or veggie. 

  I thought I'd start the season and series talking about what I've learned about growing strawberries
over the years.  For about two weeks we typically harvest around 3-5 lbs for about 3 weeks every June. Two days ago I harvested our first strawberry harvest of the season.  If you follow this blog you probably know that we grow a lot of strawberries.  They are almost all June bearing so they only produce for a few weeks in June.  I like to joke that I'm a strawberry farmer for about two weeks out of the year.  We feast on strawberries with chocolate dip ( just put a little bit of milk (milk alternative is fine too) and chocolate chips into a little bowl and put in the microwave on instead of preserving them (I do make strawberries preserves though when we harvest more than we can eat). Usually when I'm just starting to get sick of harvesting strawberries they start slowing down producing. 

Strawberries In Our Garden
Our first strawberries planted 2011 all of our other strawberries came from these plants!
We have strawberries following our walkway to our front door, and along our front bed by our house.  We started off by planting probably about 20 in 2011.    Below is the same spot last year without adding any more plants.  This is because strawberries create runners that self plant themselves in areas even with little soil.   
Our Garden 2013:  Strawberries line our pathway to our front door


Strawberries as a ground cover in our front yard June 2015, chokes out most weeds and little trees!
Types of Strawberries


The three main types of strawberries are:
  • June-bearing: Have one large harvest in June, this is what we have
  • Ever-bearing: Harvest in spring, and fall (often a smaller harvest than June bearing)
  • Day-neutral: Produce fruit continuously when temperatures are between 35° F and 85° F, but tend to produce much smaller berries.  These plants perform best in cooler climates, especially zone 5.
We planted a few ever bearing that we got at Home depot, only to have our neighbor notice us planting them and offered us lots of June bearing strawberry transplants his grandson had brought for his garden, because he didn't want any.  The June bearing have taken over now. The good thing about June bearing is you get one harvest that tends to be larger then ever bearing.  I like that it keeps me really busy harvesting in June while not much else is going on in the garden, and is over by the time other plants in the garden need my attention. It would however be nice to have two harvest one in late Jun (here in MN), and one in fall.



 Not sure what type to get? Choose the variety by checking with your local extension office, or go to your local farmer's market in June, buy several kinds, and perform your own taste test. And keep in mind that June-bearers will produce their crop earlier in warm climates -- you could be eating berries in April.



No matter what type of strawberry you grow, select a spot in full sun and that has moist, well-drained soil. Spade soil to a depth of 8-10 inches, working in compost.



Strawberry Fields Forever.....Strawberries as a Ground Cover 
Strawberries as Edible Ground Cover via  Birds and Blooms Magazine


Strawberries make a fantastic ground cover since they spread (self reproduce by runners) and are very low to the ground.  Use strawberries any where you would mulch.  They really choke out most weeds and little tree seedlings, I actually have less wedding to do then I did when I used mulch.  And extra bonus is of course strawberries!  I'd suggesting picking ever bearing if you plan to plant it by a stone pathway as they produce less runners than June bearing.

The Good and the Bad about Runners 
The Good: You Only Need to Plant a Few Plants for a Huge Area Since they Self Reproduce
The cool thing about this is if you are willing to wait a season you can get by with planting a huge area with only a few plants.  In fact it's actually a good ideal to leave space for them to self produce so you have a constant batch of new strawberry plants each year since they only last 4 to 5 years.

The Bad: If You Don't Plant Them in a Self Contained Way They Will Take Over Everything
The bad thing about it is if you don't plant them in an area that is self contained the runners will drive you crazy!  You'll have to constantly all season cut them off by hand.  In hindsight I would not have planted strawberries so close to my garden due to this.  I also need to cut the runners on our walk way a few times a year just so they're not a tripping hazard.  
The brick mow row on our garden: just mow over the bricks no weed whacking necessary
Brick Mow Rows
Plant in beds with a brick mow row (a brick edging you can just mow over), as pictured below.  This way you can just mow over the runners.  After having had my strawberries in a bed with a brick mow row for years now, I've concluded that I would have preferred having had a slight raised bed with a brick mow row in the garden bed around our house, like we have in our garden (pictured above).  This would help give the strawberries more space before cutting off the runners with the mower.  For example during June we don't mow over the brick mow row cause we would run over strawberries. 
Front garden bed: strawberry runners trying to grow into our lawn, just mow over them!
Strawberries with a brick mow row in our garden bed by our house in our front yard June 2015
Containers
Our strawberries in containers 2013
You could also grow some in containers.  You can buy strawberry planters so that you can get a lot in  one planter, or you just use a standard container like I did a few years ago with plants that had grown in our garden and other areas I didn't want (pictured below). They’ll need to be relatively large pots, about 18” across with plenty of depth (12” – 14”) for most varieties

Raised Beds
Check out how we made our concrete block raised bed
Another option to keep strawberries nicely contained is to grow some in a raised bed. This is especially a great choice if you have poor soil.  Strawberries need well draining soil.  I would suggest making a concrete block raised bed like we have in our back yard, since it's easy to make and you don't need to worry about it rotting our or chemicals from pretreated lumber leaching into your beds.  Many people like to grow strawberries in the holes of the concrete blocks.  I tried this a few years ago, but found it to hard to harvest and weed the raised bed.  If you do plant things in the holes, I would suggest at least keeping some open to sit on while you garden on each side.

Protect You Strawberries From Pest
Boarder Plus Netting Equals Strawberry Protection: Our garden 2012
The first year we grew strawberries our first strawberries were eaten by birds or squirrels (not sure which one).  Frustrated I vowed to protect my precious strawberries.  I decided to add a pretty boarder and put netting over it (as pictured above). This has been very effective in protecting our strawberries, however the netting became a tripping hazard and made harvesting them take longer.  Due to these reasons I decided to take off the netting this last fall.  I already found a few half eaten strawberries on our steps yesterday.  I figure we grow so much we can share some with our neighborhood animals I guess after all....as long as they keep most for us!  I would still suggest protecting your strawberries if your patch is smaller, ours was just too large!

Ants and Slugs Love Strawberries
The biggest problem I've had with my strawberries outside of critters is slugs and ants.  I've honestly haven't done anything to try to protect them, but do plan to try a little this season.  I did put out outdoor ant traps last year this did not seem to help with the strawberries, but is probably worth a shot againThis year I plan to up my game by pouring boiling water down the ant hills near my strawberries and later sealing up the cracks in our cement sidewalk with crack filler (this will also help with weeds)!  You can also spread a layer of cedar chip mulch around the plants. Cedar chips repel some types of ants, such as the Argentine ant. Avoid using pine straw as mulch, as this gives ants a place to nest.  Ants often attack strawberry plants after slugs damage them. I've heard that you can spread used coffee grounds (I'll probably try this one), diatomaceous earth or human hair around the plants to discourage slugs. You can also fill shallow bowls with beer and set them around the plants. Slugs crawl into the bowls and drown.  Have you tried any of these tricks?  If so I'd love to hear what works for you!


Tips on Growing Strawberries
Here are a few tips from Garden Girl TVHobby Farms, and Grow This, check out these sites for more great tips. 

Planting 
  • Each Strawberry plant can produce up to 1 quart of strawberries every year for up to 5 years
  • Plant strawberries in spring or late fall
  • Strawberries grown from seed do not yield fruit until their second year. Many choose to purchase established plants for this reason.
  • Most nursery-bought strawberry plants will be sold bare-foot. Don’t let the roots dry out. Clip them to about 6 inches before transplanting (no longer than 8 inches).
  • Plant your strawberries 18” apart for June Bearers and 12” apart for Ever bearer or Day Neutral
  • Plant strawberries on a gradual slope because this improves the drainage conditions and can help prevent frost injury 
  • Don't plant in soil where strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants or peppers have recently grown in the past four to five years, as plants in the nightshade family can carry a soil-borne disease called Verticillium wilt, which could attack your new plants.
  • use well drained soil, cover the growing area with several inches of compost or other organic matter, and then dig it in to a depth of 9 to 12 inches.
  • Most berries, especially blueberries, require acidic soil to thrive. Find out your soil's pH via a soil test before planting so you'll know how much amending your dirt will need.
  • plant in an area with 6 hours of sunlight or more
Watering
For strawberries larger strawberries water during the fruit production phase about 2” per week.  Due to their shallow root system, they are sensitive to water, both too much and too little is bad for the plant.  Water at the base of the plant and avoid getting the leaves wet if possible, which can foster disease. Keep the soil moist but do not let it get soggy. 
Fertilizing
June-bearers are best if fertilized twice, once lightly when growth begins and then more heavily once they begin to fruit. Everbearers do well if fed every two weeks. Use an organic fertilizer! A seaweed fish blend does good things to strawberries.

Care
  • Prevent birds from eating your berries by covering area with bird netting (Also, cover with a 1” layer of straw or leaves in the fall)
  • Pinch off runners to allow main stems to thrive and produce larger berriesRunners are long stems that run off the central plant and create baby strawberry plants.  These baby strawberry plants suck the nutrients out of the central plant and the central plant will lose its ability to produce fruit.
 Check out this video, "How to Grow and Harvest Strawberry Plants", for more great tips!

 Now that you know how to grow strawberries, check out our tips on how to harvest them tooCheck back soon for our next posts on harvesting strawberries, and cool DIY ideals for strawberry planters!

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