How to Grow Strawberries
Not many foods are as delicious as fresh strawberries, and most varieties are easy to grow — whether in a pot, in their own plot or as a groundcover in a flower bed. Typically, strawberries are planted in late winter or early spring as soon as the ground warms up a bit. (Fall planting may be the best in the Deep South.) Select the best variety for your area, and make sure you plant them in a spot that gets plenty of sun and has good drainage.
Junebearers begin to bear fruit in June (or as early as April in Florida and California). Usually by the second year after planting, they produce a single large crop over a three-to four-week period. Junebearers also produce many runners and spread rapidly.
Everbearers — as the name suggests — bear fruit the first year from June through August although the total harvest is typically less than that of Junebearers. They're great for northern areas with long summer days, and they are easier to control because they produce fewer runners.
Day-neutral strawberries are extremely productive and produce small but continuous harvests from June through October in northern climates and in January through August in milder climates. Day-neutrals are fragile and sensitive to heat, drought and competition from weeds.
Alpine strawberries produce small but extremely tasty berries, and they are easy to control. The Alpine is one of the parent species of the other three strawberries.
Prepare the soil well. If you have less than ideal soil, add a few inches of compost. Also, your soil's pH should measure between 6 and 6.5.
Bare-root strawberry plants from the store look limp and dehydrated, and the first thing to do is rehydrate them. Just fill a container with water and add your strawberry plants, allowing them to suck up all the water they can for an hour or so. Pick off any blossoms or small fruits so that energy goes into root and foliage development.
To plant, dig a shallow hole and create a cone of soil much like you would for an asparagus crown. Place the roots on the cone and spread them out. As you fill the hole with soil, hold the plant by the crown while you work to make sure it remains level with the soil line. Double-check to make sure it's at the right depth, and firm the soil with your hand. If you plant strawberries too deeply, they will rot. If you don't plant them deep enough, they will dry out.
Laying Out Strawberry Beds
Strawberries can spread aggressively by producing runners, which are long shoots produced by the mother plant with clusters of leaves at the top. The runners will root when they touch the ground forming daughter plants. The daughter plants become mother plants and soon send out their own daughter plants, and so on and so on. Because of their tendency to spread, gardeners have developed several systems for growing and containing strawberries.
The matted-row system is one popular way to grow strawberries. Plants are spaced 18 inches apart in rows four feet apart. The runners are allowed to grow in all directions, and in time the daughter plants fill the spaces between the mother plants to form a solid, wide row.
The hill system is another popular way to grow strawberries. Space plants one foot apart in rows with two or three feet between the rows. Any runners that develop should be quickly removed so that the plant channels all its energy into the mother plant.
There are still other methods for planting strawberries, including the modified-hill system and the spaced-runner system, but both are variations of the matted-row and hill systems. You can just plant whatever and however you want, and you'll always get strawberries. After three or four years, your mother plants' production will begin to decline, and at that point it's best to dig them up and start all over again. In the meantime, make sure to give your strawberry plants all the attention they need, including vigilant weed control, regular watering, monthly applications of balanced fertilizer, and protection from freezing and thawing cycles during the winter with mulch. Straw is the best mulching material for strawberries.