If you’d like to get your kiddos interested in growing food, strawberries are just the ticket! They bear juicy, red fruit that nearly everyone loves and are pretty easy to manage.
If you don’t have space for a patch outside, you still have a few options–they can be grown in pots on a balcony, in flower beds and even hanging baskets. They generally produce fruit for two or three years so you can enjoy them again and again.
Here’s a tipsheet full of instructions to help get you started…
When: They should be planted in early Spring soon after all danger of frost has passed and the soil can be worked. Those who live in warmer climates can also plant them in the Fall and enjoy an abundance of berries in the Spring.
Choose a day to do this when it’s cool and cloudy or later in the afternoon (to help protect the new plants from the heat/sun on the first day). For best results, check the soil first to make sure it’s dry.
Location: These guys love lots of sun so to help them thrive, find a spot where they will get at least 6 hours of sunlight.
They can thrive in a vegetable garden, flower beds, raised beds, pots & containers and even hanging baskets and bags. If you choose containers, make sure the soil is at least 12″ deep so they have room to stretch their feet.
Select a location that’s sheltered a bit from the wind and away from where peppers, tomatoes and potatoes are growing since they could harbor verticillium wilt, this is a disease they’re susceptible to.
How: You’ll notice they will have some long roots going on and that can make things a bit clumsy when trying to get them in the soil. You can trim the roots back to about 4″ for easier handling. Arrange so the roots are fanned out a bit (horizontally) rather than deep (vertically).
How deep? You want the roots completely covered in soil but the crown resting right above soil level (you’ll see the crown right above the roots).
To get started, you first want to dig the soil up really well so it’s nice and loose and mix in some compost. Pinch off any blossoms and dead leaves. Water well after planting.
Two common methods can be used with good results: Matted Row System and Hill System. You can find helpful information about these methods here: Oregon State University (pdf file download available)…
In the matted-row system, set plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row (or raised bed), with 3 to 4 feet between rows. Allow the runners that form from these “mother” plants to develop and root–they’ll form a matted row 18 inches wide. Keep the remaining 1.5 to 2.5 feet between rows clear by sweeping early formed runners into the row or by cutting off late-formed runners that grow into the aisle or off the edge of the raised bed.
The hill system is ideal for cultivars that produce few runners, such as everbearers. Set plants 12 to 15 inches apart in double-or triple-wide rows (on raised beds if necessary). Aisles should be 1.5 to 2 feet wide. Remove all runners that develop throughout the growing season before they root.
Watering: They need lots of water to thrive (at least an inch a week) but make sure the soil is well draining and that you don’t over water otherwise you’ll find rot setting in. Water daily during hot weather. To help keep the soil fairly moist, cool and weed-free, spread a layer of straw or mulch a couple inches thick around them.
Growing Season: Help them thrive by keeping the patch free of weeds, strawberries have shallow root systems and the weeds can seriously interfere with their growth. Keep the soil moist, well draining and cool if possible (cover with a layer of mulch). A nice and tidy patch that is well maintained yields the best results.
Harvesting: They will start producing berries in June and you can find varieties that will produce into Fall. It’s important to pick the fruit as they ripen to prevent them from rotting on the plant. If you’ve missed a few and do find some that are overripe and rotting, still pick them off to avoid attracting pests and disease.
Once they start ripening, check every other day to pick them (some believe you’ll get sweeter berries by letting the ripe ones stay on at least another day before picking).
Remove by pinching them off at the stem right above the berry (keep about 1/2″ of the stem attached to the berry).
June Bearing: These produce once a year (June). June Bearing are planted this year to enjoy a harvest next year. To help them get established, pinch off all blossoms the first year of growing. June bearing typically produce the largest berries. Matted Row systems work best for this variety.
Ever Bearing: These produce twice a year (Spring & Fall). To help them get established the first year you start them, pinch off the first set of blossoms up until July then allow the blossoms to grow so you can enjoy a Fall harvest. Next year you can enjoy the harvest in both Spring & Fall (no need to pinch off any blossoms). Ever bearing typically produce smaller berries than the June bearing plants. The Hill System works best for this variety.
Day Neutral: These will produce throughout the summer. In the first season, pinch off the first set of blossoms to help them get established then allow the blossoms to grow. Day neutral typically produce smaller (and sweeter) berries than the June bearing plants. The Hill System works best for this variety.
- The small white flowers are edible, just like the berries!
- Once picked, don’t wash them until just before eating. This will help keep them firm and slow down softening while being stored.
- Some find it worthwhile to cover them with a light netting to help protect the fruit from birds. If you have a lot of birds in your area, give this trick a try.
- They will not ripen once they’re picked so make sure to pick only when they’re ready.
- Once picked keep them refrigerated until they can be eaten, this will help extend their shelf life.
- Some believe that berries picked in the morning have a longer shelf life than those picked later in the day.
- You can hull them quickly by washing first then taking a wide plastic straw–insert it at the bottom of the berry-–then push the stem out (Source: 50 Quick Tips For The Kitchen).
- Towers are an excellent way to grow strawberries in small spaces, you can build your own with a couple 5-gallon plastic buckets. Free directions are found on this page: ucanr.org.
- DIY Pyramids: If you don’t have a lot of garden space, try this project made with fence pickets and deck screws. Plants are grown vertically in tiers.