In cream, shortcake, daiquiris, smoothies, granola or all by themselves, strawberries add the sweet taste of summer itself. They're as colorful as they are delicious. Did you know they're the only fruit to grow seeds on the outside? Or that they're actually a member of the rose family? All true. So if you want to encourage someone to eat well and become hooked on gardening, suggest planting a patch, or pot, of strawberries. Strawberries are among the easiest and most rewarding plants gardeners grow.
Most sweet fruits require an abundance of sunshine. Strawberries are especially thirsty for the sun's rays, requiring at least 8 hours of full sun, and rich, well-drained soil. The good news is you don't need a vegetable garden to provide these conditions, you might just find the needed sunlight on your deck or patio. When you do, plant your strawberry patch in a half-barrel or other large container on the deck. Or, strawberry plants can be incorporated into a flowerbed as a ground cover or edging plant.
Short on space? Produce a nice crop of strawberries in a few hanging baskets or in "strawberry pots" with wide pockets. Growing strawberries in these types of containers keep berries cleaner, and smaller containers are child-sized for young gardeners-in-training. Strawberries like to stay evenly moist and smaller containers will require frequent watering. When growing strawberries in containers, use a well-drained potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Moisture Control® Potting Mix.
Strawberries like well-drained, slightly acid soil enriched with lots of organic matter, such as Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil. When planting in the ground, dig the soil and work in 3 inches of organic matter into the top 6 inches. Strawberries can grow in clay or poorly drained soils with a little help. Work several inches of organic matter into the soil, then form the soil into mounds or hills. Another option for poorly drained soils is to plant in raised beds.
You will find 3 fruiting types of strawberries - ever-bearing, June-bearing, and day-neutral. 'Ozark Beauty', 'Quinault' and 'Sequoia' are considered ever-bearing. These plants produce a large flush of fruit from their spring flowering, rest during the long days of summer and produce another, smaller crop in fall. June-bearing cultivars, like 'Tennessee Beauty', produce their entire crop in a 3-week period about 30 days after flowering. In locations with mild winters, look for day-neutral types like 'Camarosa' and 'Sweet Charlie'.
Early spring planting is best in Zone 6 northward; fall planting is preferable from Zone 7 south. In the South, strawberries can begin producing as early as February and, further north, as late as June.
Strawberries like to spread out. Dig holes wide and deep enough to accommodate plant roots. Be sure to leave the crown of the plant well above the soil line. Cover the roots completely with soil, pressing down gently but firmly. Space plants 12-18 inches apart. Add a layer of mulch to retain moisture, minimize weeds and keep berries clean.
Strawberries require consistent moisture but should never stay soggy. If it rains less than an inch during any given the week, you should water your plants. Strawberries produce lots of offshoots. You'll get larger, sweeter berries if you trim all but 3 offshoots from the parent plant. Plant the trimmings to start new beds, or give them to friends who want their own fresh strawberries. In the lower South, using the young plants to replace the parent plant each year helps reduce problems with disease.
Birds love strawberries as much as we do and will devour the ripest spot on the berry. Prevent birds from sharing your harvest with a drape of bird netting.