Summer just isn’t the same without fresh, sweet strawberries, especially when they’re grown at home. In fact, strawberries are so popular during the summer that many places have festivals dedicated to them. And, of course:
Homegrown Strawberries: Bigger and Better
Homegrown berries have a much sweeter taste and juicier flesh than store-bought because they haven’t gone through the long, supermarket storage process.
Best of all, homegrown strawberries thrive without harmful chemicals. Plus, you only need a few plants to produce 30 or more pounds of fruit a season. Instead of spending money on expensive berries at the grocery store, grow your own at home. They’re one of the easiest types of fruit to grow at home, as well as one of the most rewarding.
How to Plant
Plan which area of your landscape will be best for your strawberries. They will need a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Also, it’s important to remember to avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, peppers or potatoes have grown in the past since they’re susceptible to their diseases.
It’s best to plant strawberries on a raised bed after any weeds or grass have been removed. With raised beds, strawberries won’t compete with your plants for water and nutrients.
When you’re ready to plant, unbundle your strawberry plants and gently separate them by hand. Space them about 12 to 18 inches apart and dig a hole for each plant. Make sure the hole is three times larger that the root mass and just as deep.
Remove any debris like rocks, grass or dirt clumps from the holes, and use a shovel to loosen the soil around the sides of the holes. Place your plants in the holes and gently backfill the soil. Make sure the crown, where the stems and leaves meet, is level with the surrounding ground and give your plants a good drink of water.
Spreading a layer of mulch around the base of the plants will help the soil retain moisture and will keep weeds from growing too close to your plants.
Strawberry plants have very shallow roots and can be planted in smaller pots that are only 5 to 6 inches deep. Just make sure that the container has drainage holes at the bottom. When planting your strawberry plants in a container, plant them with an organic potting mix that’s slightly acidic.
Amending the Soil
Generally, strawberry plants prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.8. You can test the acidity of your soil with a pH tester found at your local gardening store. To raise the acidity of your soil, add organic matter or peat moss to it. Add lime to your soil to make it less acidic.
Over time, as mulch breaks down and decays, it will add more nutrients to your soil.
Soil that is heavy in clay can get waterlogged and can cause root rot. To improve the drainage of clay soil, mix in some sand or organic matter prior to planting.
Ensure that your plants get enough water during the summer but not too much. Their soil should be kept moist, down to about two inches below the surface of the soil, but it shouldn’t be oversaturated or soggy. They usually need about two inches of water a week, so pay attention to the weather to see how much rain your plants are getting and water them during hot and dry days or during prolonged drought periods.
In most cases, strawberry plants need to be watered twice a week. However, soil will dry out more quickly in a container than in the ground.
Water your plants at their bases, not from overhead.
It’s best to water your plants in the early morning or the late evening. If you water during the mid-day when the temperatures are the hottest, the water could evaporate before the strawberry plants have a chance to drink it up.
Many people suggest using a drip irrigation system for strawberries, which are a network of tubes and valves that slowly drip water to the roots of plants about every 12 inches. They keep plants hydrated without overwatering them and without water waste or run off.
Avoid Crop Critters
It’s no secret that strawberries are delicious and animals agree, especially hungry birds. To keep birds from swooping in to eat your berries, place a mesh bird net over your plants. The net won’t block any sunlight or weigh your plants down, they’ll simply protect them against birds. You can also place rubber snakes or owls around your garden to scare birds away.
If rabbits and squirrels are a problem in your landscape, dig a trench around your strawberry bed that’s about a foot deep and place a 30-inch wire mesh fence in the trench. This will prevent critters from burrowing in and making an endless buffet out of your garden. There are also a variety of nontoxic, organic sprays you can use to naturally deter small critters away.
To keep pests like slugs and beetles away from your garden, spray with an all-natural, organic pesticide. Many sprays contain high amounts of citrus and other nontoxic ingredients that will send bugs on their merry little way. Also, placing crushed eggshells around your garden will keep slugs from entering and will add calcium to the soil as they decompose.
Strawberry plants don’t need to be fertilized on a regular basis but often benefit from the boost of nutrients found in fertilizers, like potassium and phosphorous. Signs that it’s time to fertilize your plants? Yellowing leaves, a healthy green plant but very few blooms, and small fruit that never grows larger.
If your plants need fertilizer, feed them with a well-balanced, all-natural organic fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 or 5-5-5. It’s best to fertilize in the early spring and early fall.
While strawberry plants don’t need to be constantly managed, keep an eye out for their runners during the summer. Runners are long, branchless stems that grow outwards to create another strawberry plant. It’s great to have your plants multiply, but they can take nutrients and energy from their parent plant, leaving it with poor fruit production and a small harvest.
Remove them with a sterile pair of hand pruners or garden scissors. If your plant is old, allow it to spread runners in order to keep your strawberry patch bountiful.
Harvest and Storage
Picking fresh strawberries to snack on is an event that lasts all summer. Strawberries are ready about 4 to 6 weeks after pollination, so very little wait is involved. Harvest your berries when their skin fully turns to a shade of bright red. Check on your plant every few days for more berries.
Avoid pulling your strawberries off of their stems. Cut them free with a pair of clean-hand pruners or scissors instead.
Fresh strawberries can be stored in the fridge for about five days and even longer in the freezer. Remember not to wash your fruit until you’re ready to use them – this will keep them fresh longer.