Growing Strawberries in Containers
It’s hard to beat the treat of juicy fruit picked at perfect ripeness, straight from the plant. But what if you don’t have enough sun or space to grow fruiting trees or shrubs in your yard? Give strawberries a try! They’re small enough to plant in a pot, and when you choose the right kind, they can produce delicious fruit through much of the growing season.
Besides being a great choice where there’s little or no garden space, keeping strawberries in containers makes it easier to protect the fruits from slugs and many animal pests, and the good air circulation around their leaves can help to prevent disease problems. Growing potted strawberries on your deck, patio or balcony also makes it a snap for you to keep an eye on the maturing berries and catch them at the peak of ripeness for picking. With their lush leaves, pretty white or pink flowers, and colorful fruits, strawberry plants are also quite attractive, as well.
Exploring Your Options
Regular (hybrid) strawberries come in a couple of different types. “June-bearers” produce an abundance of berries over a period of a few weeks in late spring or early summer, then send out lots of runners (slender, horizontal stems with small plantlets). Varieties sold as “ever-bearing” or “day-neutral” usually produce moderate amounts of berries in late spring and early fall, often with some during the summer, too, if the weather’s not too hot. Ever-bearing and day-neutral varieties, such as ‘Seascape’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Tristar’, tend to be the best choices for containers, because they bear fruit during their first year, and you get an extended harvest period. They do produce runners, but usually not as vigorously as June-bearing types.
Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) plants look similar to regular strawberries, though their flowers and fruits are much smaller, and they stay neat and bushy, with no runners. While the berries are intensely flavorful, they’re somewhat delicate and don’t ship well, so you’ll rarely find them sold in grocery stores. Fortunately, it’s no trouble to grow these pretty plants in pots, which means you can enjoy these gourmet treats over a period of months right outside your door. ‘Alexandria’, ‘Improved Ruegen’ and ‘Mignonette’ produce red fruits; ‘White Soul’ and ‘Yellow Wonder’ bear creamy-white to pale-yellow berries.
Planting and Caring for Your Strawberries
Strawberries can adapt to a wide variety of containers, from 6- to 8-inch pots for individual plants to larger planters, such as wooden or plastic half barrels, for multiple plants. They grow in hanging baskets and window boxes too. You can also find “strawberry jars,” which are upright planters with multiple small pockets in the sides to hold the plants. It’s difficult to water these sorts of containers effectively, however, so they often produce disappointing results.
Fill the container you’ve chosen with a soil-less potting mix, then add the plants. Set the container in a site with plenty of light; at least eight hours of sun a day is ideal for good fruit production, though alpine strawberries can do well even with just six hours of sun. Water as needed to keep the roots evenly moist if rain is lacking. Every two weeks or so from late spring to late summer, give your strawberries a dose of liquid fertilizer, mixed according to the directions on the package.
In many areas strawberries can survive the winter outdoors in their container and sprout again in spring. The hybrid types get crowded quickly, though, and eventually stop producing fruit. If you’re growing ever-bearing or day-neutral types, you may just want to treat them as annuals and plant new ones each spring to keep them fresh and productive. Alpine strawberry plants can last for many years, but it’s a good idea to divide the clumps every three years or so in early to mid-spring and replant them in fresh potting mix.