There is nothing like eating beautiful, fresh strawberries from your own garden. The taste of homegrown strawberries is so superior to that of grocery store berries, you will never be able to eat store berries without noticing it again. My son and I have a tradition of eating the first strawberry straight FROM the garden, right there in the bed in the garden.
I mean, come on! You can’t look at this basket of berries without wanting to reach out and eat one. The possibilities are endless: jam, smoothies, pies, fresh, cheesecake…need I say more? I didn’t know this joy myself until three years ago.
I started my own strawberry patch with 50 plants. I researched, planted, and waited. And then I discovered that rabbits had eaten the tops off almost all my plants! The rage I felt was undescribable. I was so close to having rabbit stew for dinner. Talk about eating local!
But I took a deep breath, sprinkled baby powder over all my plants, watered them diligently, and waited again. Strawberry plants are amazingly sturdy and tough. The chopped off plants regrew the buds and leaves, and started sending out runners. I pinched off the blooms, let the plants put energy into roots, and patiently (excrutiatingly) held until the next year. It definitely paid off…the next year we were bringing in five gallon buckets of strawberries.
You too can have success with your own strawberries at home. The key is preparation that first year, and patience.
It all starts with understanding how a strawberry plant works. The whole plant generates outward from what is called the ‘crown’. The crown is the part that looks like it wrapped in red paper on some plants, and the part that my thumb and finger are around in the picture below. The roots grow downward from this point, and the leaves and buds and runners grow upward and outward from it.
Strawberry plants look almost fuzzy, in a way, which makes them easy to tell from some other plants that they resemble. Even the fruits have a fuzzy look to them up close. The crown however, is smooth, and it is this point that sits right at, and slightly above the soil line when you plant it.
You should chose a sight with full sun, AT LEAST 6-10 hours a day. This is important. Turning your soil beforehand can help. Before you plant, you may want to add some compost to your soil. They like a pH of 5.5 to 7, if you like to know about things like that. I never tested my soil pH, my berries did great, but perhaps I got lucky. Amending your soil ahead of time is easier than after, but if your berries don’t do well, testing your soil pH may give you your answer.
You can see here that the crown is sitting slightly above the soil line. As said before, this is important for healthy growth in the plant. Now, different sources will give you different information about how far apart to place each strawberry plant. I have seen 14 inches, 20 inches, but I feel like the CLOSEST you want to plant them is 8-12 inches apart. A little further is better, but you definitely want no more than 3 plants for every 2 square feet. In the picture below, they are planted about a foot apart in a double row. I planted them this way in my patch, but left a wide space (more than 3 feet) in between the double rows.
You can see these plants have a good start, with buds on some plants that will soon turn into flowers. On my new plants, I would pinch those off. Not getting to eat many berries the first year is disappointing, but it will be worth it when you get a bumper crop of strawberries the next year. Buds that form later in the season can be left on, many types of strawberries form buds in late summer and the fall, that don’t turn into fruit until the next year.
I would also recommend mulching your plants the first year. It may not be necessary in subsequent years, as your plants fill in and cover the ground themselves, but the first year, you need to protect your plants from getting choked out. Strawberries do NOT do well with competition from weeds, especially things like creeping Charlie (ground ivy) or grass. I use straw to mulch a lot of things in my garden, as I like its ability to cover the ground, while at the same time being very easy to move around, and it quickly biodegrades. A lot of the straw will be gone by next year, so if you don’t need to mulch anymore, you don’t have to remove it. I used straw around the plants, and then woodchips on the paths in between my double rows.
I don’t push the straw right up to the base of the plant. I leave it a little space to breathe, because again, we don’t want to suffocate the crown. Also, it needs room to send out runners, and a little bare dirt around the plant assists in that process. You will just need to hand weed a little right around the plant if necessary.
I mentioned baby powder above. If you have rabbits in your garden, and you don’t have a fence, baby powder is a great way to help keep the bunnies off. I use baby powder on many things in my garden, because the rabbits think it tastes really bad, it is easy to apply, and easily washes off produce without being absorbed. The downside of baby powder is that it has to be reapplied after a rain. However, it is cheap, easily accessible, and will keep your plants intact until they grow larger. Rabbits want young, tender new growth, and when your plants get larger and tougher, the bunnies will lose some of their interest.
Strawberry plants usually produce well up to 5 years. Replace with some new plants every year or so to keep your berry quality high. This is much easier than pulling them out and completely replacing them all at the end of 5 years. Some people think that their strawberry plants aren’t any good, when the problem is that they are actually too old.
Do you have any tips for growing strawberries? The best gardeners are always learning and growing (pun TOTALLY intended), and I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.