Lexington, KY – Spring weather brings with it an onset of green-thumb fever in my house. Mornings with coffee and stacks of gardening books have become a spring ritual. The usual suspects in my vegetable garden are typically a mishmash of tomatoes, green beans, lettuces, the attempted squash or two and a few scattered herbs. Every year I also attempt adding one new item to the mix. This year strawberries will finally make their debut at the Smith Homestead.
Strawberries get a bad wrap in the garden. They are known to spread like wildfire if not kept under control, are temperamental when planted near other vegetables, and won’t thrive without enough sun or too much water. Despite their questionable garden behavior, I am eager to give them a chance.
Depending on the variety, a strawberry plant will either produce fruit in the first year or not. June-bearing strawberry plants produce large store-like berries, but will not give fruit until the second year after planting. Everbearing and day-neutral varieties, which give smaller yet sweeter berries, will produce fruit in the first year, typically yielding three crops a season: a moderate spring crop, a summer crop of small berries, and a heavier fall crop, according to the UK Cooperative Extension Office.
Traditionally, strawberries are planted in the garden, yet I was surprised to find out that not only is container gardening a viable option (think terra cotta strawberry pots) but hanging plant baskets are also successful strawberry growers. They can even be grown indoors.
1. Plant as early as the ground can be worked in March or early April, which will produce a larger fall crop (depending on the variety). Look for an area of your yard with excellent sunlight throughout the day and good drainage.
2. After buying strawberry plants, trim off any older leaves from the plant and remove all flowers and runners to allow the mother plant to strongly develop. Roots should be trimmed so they are about 4 to 5 inches in length and any damaged areas removed. Then, place the roots in water for an hour immediately before planting. The plant should be placed in the soil so the crown of the plant is even with the soil’s surface and the roots fan out.
3. Choose a cool and cloudy day for planting strawberries and give them plenty of elbowroom to spread out their runners. Planting strawberries in hills makes for easier care and weeding. According to the experts at GardeningGuides.com, plant rows in groups of two to four plants with a two-foot path between rows and the plants spaced at about a foot apart.
4. Strawberries prefer a soil with a pH between 5.3 and 6.5, but will grow in soils that have a slightly higher or lower level.
5. For the first six weeks after planting, remove all blossoms on everbearing and day-neutral plants by either pinching or cutting them. This will give them time to be established before expending energy toward growing fruit.
6. Water the plants every day until the growing season, and then reduce watering to when the top inch of soil has become dry.
Growing Strawberries Indoors
The beauty of growing strawberries indoors is that you are free from the worry of pests, birds and small animals eating your bounty. Although growing strawberries indoors won’t yield nearly the harvest as garden growing, it is a great solution for those unable to tend a garden or lack the outdoor space to do so.
The strawberry plants need at least six hours of sunlight, which can come naturally at a sunny window or through artificial plant lighting. Strawberries have very shallow roots so they grow well in a variety of pots.
1. Place them in a sunny window that gets warm during the day. A kitchen window usually does great because the room has some moisture, providing ideal growing conditions.
2. Strawberries like water, but not too much water. Check the soil often to ensure it is moist but not soggy and mist the plants periodically.
3. Alpine strawberries are one of the easiest varieties to grow indoors because they do well in confined space and require less light than other varieties.
Suspending strawberries off the ground is a great way to keep slugs, snails and bugs at bay, as well as squirrels, chipmunks and bunnies. Strawberries planted in hanging baskets will typically produce fruit for three years. Five to six strawberry plants can grow in the top of a hanging basket in the spring and would make a beautiful, unique Mothers Day present or hostess gift.
1. Any size hanging basket will do. Just make sure to space the plants 6 to 8 inches apart.
2. Hanging baskets can easily get too heavy. A good solution for this is mixing peat moss with potting soil and a bit of top soil or sand which also ensures the dirt is a sandy soil mix, which is ideal for strawberry plants.
3. Hanging baskets will dry out quicker than other methods of planting so check the soil often and water as necessary to keep the dirt moist.
4. Strawberries prefer a temperature around 65 degrees, which means they will need protection on very hot summer days. On such days make sure they get just the morning sun between 7 – 11 a.m. and are then moved into the shade.
Strawberries are one of the best plants to grow in containers. Any container will do but an actual strawberry pot, with its multiple openings, gives all the plants ample sun exposure and space to spread out. The only major requirement for growing container strawberries is a sunny spot where they have access to at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Some daily shade is acceptable, as long as the six hour requirement is met.
1. Choose a pot with good drainage that will allow each plant at least 1 foot of space to spread on the surface or to cascade over the side of the pot.
2. Purchase bags of fresh commercial potting mix with a high humus content, or amend it with compost. Fill the pot three-fourths of the way to the top with the potting soil leaving a small distance between the soil surface and the lip of the pot.
3. Place your strawberry plants into the soil so that the roots are just buried, nipping off runners, but the soil does not cover the crown or center of the plant that the leaf stems emerge from. This placement will allow the runners and daughter plants to form and produce more fruit. Press with your fingers to gently secure the soil around the roots without crushing them.
4. Water your strawberry plants well at planting, and provide them at least 1.5 inches of water per week throughout the growing season. Your goal is to keep the soil evenly and consistently moist, and never allowing it to dry out. Warm or dry climates will dictate more water each week as strawberries planted in terra cotta pots lose moisture to evaporation more readily. During the peak of summer, daily watering may be required. Always water at the base of the plants at the soil, and refrain from wetting the leaves, which can cause rot at the crown and damage the furry leaves.
There are many varieties of strawberries available and each berry has varying growing conditions. Red alpine strawberries (an everbearer) are usually the best choice if you intend to grow your strawberries indoors because they are more tolerant to shady conditions. The Brighton variety, another everbearer, is known for doing well in hanging baskets. I think I have my sights set on the Quinault variety for my container garden on our sunny deck, and the Seascape variety for my backyard garden this year. Truth be told, I mostly just have my sights set on that first big slice of homemade strawberry tart on a muggy July evening this summer.