Guide to Growing Strawberries: Varieties and Propagation, Planting, Caring, Harvesting and Preserving

Reader Contribution by Michael Feldmann
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The charming flowers push their way to the sun through the leaves and are soon followed by mouthwatering berries. Photo by Bettina Böhme on Pixabay

Strawberries are very easy to grow in almost all climates and soils, and probably are an ideal plant for gardeners and small farmers across the United States. Strawberries fruit year after year and can be harvested all the way from midsummer through to the first frosts. They are very convenient for a small place in the garden, because they take up very little space, and only a couple of strawberry plants can provide you with plenty of fresh strawberries to the table.

Strawberries grow very quickly under the right conditions, and despite their small size, a several plants can produce hundreds of delicate berries. This combination of fruit speed and volume makes it perfect for making cakes, pies, ice cream, and for preparing jam, jelly, and juice.

Strawberry deserts have a delicate aroma of flowers and a delicate aroma of strawberry, a very pleasant aroma, and great taste. And however, growing strawberries is not hard. In fact, with proper planting and care, nearly anyone can become a successful strawberry gardener.

Choosing the Right Variety

There are three main strawberry types: June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral. Some people think that everbearing and day-neutral types are the same, but they are actually different. In short, June-bearing strawberries have the largest fruit but only produce one big harvest over a week or two. Everbearing strawberries yield larger early harvests, lower late harvests, and several berries in between, while day-neutrals strawberries yield throughout the growing season. Everbearing and day-neutrals typically yield less and smaller berries overall than June-bearing strawberry varieties.

Considering these characteristics will determine which type you need. If you want fresh berries all year long and don’t mind picking smaller and fewer, choose day-neutral or everbearing varieties. If you need a lot of berries, choose June-bearing varieties (which most people do).

Considerations on how you plan to use your strawberries also play an important rule when determining which strawberry type to grow. If you want to preserve your strawberries by making from them jam or some else, it is easiest to accomplish your goals with the larger size and quantity that come from June-bearing strawberries.

Planting Strawberries in the Garden

Growing strawberries in the garden is probably the best way to enjoy your own fresh strawberries, or make from them delicious strawberry cakes, pies, jams and much more…

For all this, you just need to familiarize yourself with their needs such as soil, location, and other.

Soil. The soil is probably the most important factor that determines the success of the strawberry harvest. Generally, strawberry varieties thrive on practically all garden soils. They grow best in well-drained soil, with a pH value between 5.5 and 6.5. However, extremely heavy, compacted soils in which waterlogging can easily form, are not suitable.

Location. Strawberries grow best in a sunny, sheltered spot in the garden. They are also sensitive to light and heat, which means that they need to be planted in places well-lit and reliably protected from cold winds. The best place on the south and southeast side of the plot, for the strawberries, enjoys the morning and afternoon sun.

In addition to the light and soil conditions, crop rotation plays a central role in the choice of location. Salad, mustard, parsley, and deep-rooted legumes are welcome as previous crops. In mixed culture, strawberries get along excellent with low-growing plants such as onions, and marigolds, which cast a shadow.

Spacing. Strawberry plants should not be planted too close together. There should still be space between the plats, this ensures adequate ventilation of the leaves, which prevents plant diseases. It also makes it easier to pick the ripe strawberries at the harvest. There should be a minimum of 18 to 24 inches distance between the plants when planting. If you lay out the plants in several rows, leave about 2 feet between the rows. This will prevent you from compacting the soil directly around the plants with your feet during harvest and other work on your strawberry plants.

The best time to plant strawberries. Planting is a most important step in growing strawberries. Fortunately, it is very easy! This guide is for the typical gardener who plants an entire garden including strawberries in spring. For gardeners who don’t mind planning a little, planting autumn strawberries may be the best option if harvesting during the first growing season is important! For spring planting, once the soil is dry and ready to work (usually in March or April), you should plant your strawberry plants. Before the temperature rises in the summer months, the strawberry needs to be well-established.

Planting and Planting depth. Dig out a big enough hole to spread out the roots of each strawberry plant. At the bottom of the hole, create a small hill of soil that is flush with the surrounding soil level. Put the strawberry plant on top of the hill inside the hole so that the crown is at soil level and spread the roots out down the sides of the hill. Fill in the hole and make sure that the soil level is at the middle of the crown. Planting too shallow can cause the roots to dry out before they establish, and planting too deep is also not good. See the figure below for proper planting depth. Once the strawberry plants are planted, press down on the soil around the roots to strengthen it, then water thoroughly.

When planting strawberries, take care of the correct planting depth. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Fertilizing, Mulching, Watering and Care

Fertilizing. The nutritional needs of strawberries are not very high and garden soils are usually rich in nutrients. Strawberry plants need a lot of nitrogen in early spring and again in late autumn because they send runners and produce berries. Ideally, you have prepared the soil before planting the strawberries by adding compost or manure. This will allow you to reduce or eliminate the amount of additional fertilizer your plants need.

Mulching. Add a layer of organic mulch in autumn around your strawberry plants to protect the roots from frost, to maintain soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and to control weeds. For mulch, you can use straw, pine needles, or wood shavings.

Watering. The strawberry places high demands on its water supply. Water your strawberry plants with about 1 inch of water each week. Water the base of the plant. Do not water fruits and leaves, as this can lead to the development of fungus or rot. For a rough estimate of how much water you need, use about 5 gallons of water for every 8 feet of strawberries. Strawberry plants need water regularly, but not too much at once. To prevent waterlogging, you can put a perforated hose in the garden bed. With a watering timer and a timer, you can control programmed watering intervals. These timers are connected directly to the taps.

Weed control. Controlling weeds in your strawberry garden is very important because weeds can easily infect strawberry plants, especially newly planted ones. Check for weeds once a week. Pull out all weeds by hand, remembering to remove their roots. Otherwise, after a short period of time, the weeds will grow again. It is also very recommended to spread mulch to keep the strawberry plants area free of weeds.

Cultivation Issues. Growing strawberries is not immune to certain problems, which can usually be prevented with good care and regular rotation. In this way, the plants will be less prone to disease. Also remember that while strawberries are to be prevented from drying out, overwatering can cause them to rot. During the growing season, strawberries fear frost and cold weather. Try to protect your plants as much as possible; if the temperature drops, isolate them with mulch. If you notice any leaves turning yellow or moldy, remove them so they don’t contaminate the rest of the plant. Pick the fruits when they are ripe to prevent them from rotting on the plant.

Propagation

Make many out of one: If you have well-rooted strawberries in your garden, you can easily propagate them by their runners. You can get lots of young plants at no extra cost to increase your strawberry harvest.

Propagating strawberries from runners. Propagating strawberries from runners is probably the easiest and quickest way to propagate strawberries. Almost all strawberry varieties produce several runners. Some wild strawberry varieties don’t produce runners and can to be propagated by seeds.

Strawberry runners, also known as “stolons”, is a horizontal stem that extends outward from the base of the strawberry plant. By this runners, new strawberry plants will form at different distances. This is possible due to the ability of the strawberry plant to form adventitious roots. These specialized roots form at nodes along the runner. Wherever these roots touch the soil, they will continue to grow into that soil and create a new plant that is genetically identical to the plant that originally sent the runner. Due to this aspect of runners, it is relatively easy to propagate strawberries.

Propagating from runners is probably the best way to propagate strawberries. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

To propagate strawberries with this method, it is enough to direct the runners so that the adventitious roots grow in a separate moveable container. Any small container or pot filled with sandy loam soil will work fine. It can be buried so that the strawberry runner remains at ground level, or the pot can be placed on the ground for easier removal once the new strawberry plant is rooted and established.

In either case, the runner can be held in place with clothespins, rocks, a pile of dirt, a pair of sticks, or anything else suitable for holding the runner in place and contacting the knot with the soil. Once the root is established, separate the new plant from the mother strawberry plant by cutting off the runner. Typically, this new strawberry plant can be transplanted into the garden even by the next year.

Harvesting & Preserving

For the best flavor and texture, harvest your strawberries when it is dry and cool — when it’s not raining, and ideally after the heat of the midday sun has passed. As with many berries, the harvest time extends over a longer period of time. Each ripe fruit should have a deep red color, this is also depending on the variety.

The strawberries are a typical summer fruit. Those who do not want to refuse the sweetness of their own strawberries in the colder months of the year. Here are included two best methods of storing strawberries:

Freezing. Strawberries are great for freezing. Everyone knows delicious frozen strawberries that can be eaten like an ice cream. Before freezing, remove all stems and leaves and carefully wash the strawberries in standing water and pat dry with paper towel or tissues. So that the fruits do not freeze together later and do not become so mushy after thawing, I pre-freeze the strawberries: Place the strawberries individually next to each other on a tray or plate, put them in the freezer, and freeze for about 2 hours. Decant pre-frozen strawberries in freezer bags or cans and re-freeze. The frozen strawberries will keep for about 8 months.

Preserving. Probably the best way to store strawberry harvest is by preserving. Canning is a great way to extend the fruiting season and bring the joy of fruits into the cold winter months. Especially, for Berries that yield bushels and bushels of fruit, canning is particularly useful.

Strawberry Jam Recipe

Growing strawberries in the garden are probably the best way to enjoy your own fresh strawberry jam. Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions:

  1. In a large enough bowl, crush the strawberries in portions until you have 4 cups of mashed berry.
  2. In a saucepan, combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir on low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a full boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is at 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Gelling test: Take a tablespoon of the jam and put it on a plate. If the mixture is firm, the jam can be filled into preserving jars. However, if the mass is not firm enough and slips off the plate, it must be cooked for a few more minutes. (If the desired consistency is not achieved, simply add a little more sugar).
  4. When the strawberry jam is ready and the scent of fresh strawberries fills the kitchen. Fill into sterilized jars with lids while still very hot, allow to cool. As the jam is cool, close tightly with lids.

You can eat this delicious fresh strawberry jam any time of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. Or of course a piece with every meal. It all depends on how much you love freshly baked strawberry jam.


Michael Feldmannis a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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