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Strawberries are so versatile – they just need sun, shelter, and fertile, well-drained soil. Avoid areas prone to frost and soils that have previously grown potatoes, chrysanthemums, or tomatoes because they are all prone to the disease verticillium wilt.
Buy plants from a trustworthy supplier so that the cultivars are what they say they are and the plants are disease free. Order plants in late summer so that they can be planted in early autumn. Strawberry plants bought as cold-stored runners should be planted from late spring to early summer and will fruit 60 days after planting.
Runners look like little pieces of roots with very few leaves. Don’t be alarmed, this is how they should look. You can buy runners from late summer to early spring, and they should be planted in early autumn, or early spring (avoid planting in winter when the ground is wet and cold). You sometimes also see strawberries for sale in pots (normally from late spring onwards) and these can be planted as soon as you buy them.
Strawberries are traditionally grown in rows directly into the garden soil – often referred to as the strawberry patch. Avoid windy sites which will prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers. In poor soils grow in raised beds, which improves drainage and increases rooting depth. Alternatively, try containers or growing-bags.
Strawberry plants can be grown under a tunnel cloche to produce an earlier crop by up to seven to 10 days. Place the cloche over the plants in early spring, but remove or roll up the sides when the plants are flowering to give pollinating insects access.
Strawberries in containers can also be grown in an unheated greenhouse, which encourages an even earlier crop, by 10–14 days. In a heated greenhouse or conservatory, it is possible to bring forward flowering by several weeks, so long as the temperature does not go above 16°C (61°F), because this will inhibit flowering. You will also need to hand pollinate the flowers.
Summer-fruiting varieties are the largest and most popular. They have a short but heavy cropping period over two or three weeks. There are early, mid-, and late fruiting cultivars cropping from early to mid-summer.
Perpetual strawberries – sometimes called everbearers – produce small flushes of fruits from early summer to early autumn. The crops are not so heavy as the summer-fruiting ones and the fruits are smaller, with the plants less likely to produce runners. Perpetual strawberries are useful for extending the season. To concentrate strawberry production in late summer and early autumn, remove the early summer flowers.
Measure out planting holes 35cm (14in) apart. Dig out a hole large enough to accommodate the roots. Trim the roots lightly to 10cm (4in) if necessary, then spread them out in the hole. Ensure that the base of the crown rests lightly on the surface. Planting at the correct depth is important: if the crown is planted too deeply it will rot; if it is planted too shallowly the plants will dry out and die. If planting another row, place it 75cm (30in) away. A fibre mat can then be placed around each plant, or you can plant through black polythene. Water the plants well.
Once the plant is at the correct depth, backfill the soil, keeping it off the crown and firming it around the plant using finger tips. If planting another row, place it 75cm (30in) away. Water the plants well. A fibre mat can then be placed around each plant, or you can plant through black polythene.
Water frequently while new plants are establishing. Also water during dry periods in the growing season. Water from the bottom as water from overhead can rot the crown and fruit.
During the growing season, give strawberry plants a liquid potash feed – such as a tomato feed – every 7 to 14 days. In early spring, apply general fertiliser such as Growmore at a rate of 50g per sq m (2oz per sq yd).
In a heated greenhouse or conservatory, it is possible to bring forward flowering by several weeks, so long as the temperature does not go above 16°C (61°F), because this will inhibit flowering. You will also need to hand pollinate the flowers.
As fruits start to develop, tuck straw underneath them to prevent the strawberries from rotting on the soil. Otherwise use individual fibre mats if these are not already in position. The straw or matting will also help to suppress weeds. Weeds that do emerge should be pulled out by hand.
After cropping has finished, remove the old leaves from summer-fruiting strawberries with secateurs or hand shears. Also remove the straw mulch, fibre mat, or black polythene, to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases.
Expect strawberry plants to crop successfully for three years before replacing them. Crop rotation is recommended to minimise the risk of an attack by pests and diseases in the soil.
Pick strawberries when they are bright red all over, ideally during the warmest part of the day because this is when they are at their most tasty.
Eat them as soon as possible; they do not keep well, but some can be frozen or made into preserves.
‘Honeoye’ AGM: A darkish berry with excellent flavour. Can be susceptible to mildew. Fruits during early summer.
‘Cambridge Favourite’ AGM: - A traditional favourite, this variety can have a few disease problems but the fruit is juicy and possesses an excellent flavour.
‘Alice’ AGM: - One of the best midsummer strawberries with a sweet flavour and juicy texture with good disease resistance.
‘Elsanta’: The most widely grown commercial cultivar, it has superb flavour and large yields of glossy, red fruit. Can be prone to disease.
‘Hapil’ AGM: This mid-season cultivar produces heavy yields of light red fruits. Fruits are firm and have excellent sweet flavour.
‘Pegasus’ AGM: A good, reliable cropper with excellent disease resistance, particularly to mildew and verticillium wilt.
‘Symphony’(PBR) AGM: Acultivar from Scotland with attractive, glossy, red fruit and excellent flavour. is hardy and has good disease resistance, although it can be susceptible to mildew.
‘Florence’: A late summer strawberry with good disease resistance. The large, bright, glossy fruits have good flavour.
‘Mara de Bois’: Well liked for its crop of intensely flavoured fruit that is said to be reminiscent of wild strawberries.
‘Aromel’ AGM: a cultivar popular for its delicious flavour.
Botrytis (Grey mould): Grey mould, caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, is a very common disease, causing a growth of fuzzy grey mould. It infects many plants, especially those grown under glass where conditions are humid.
Remedy: Remove dead and dying leaves, buds and flowers promptly. Do not leave dead plant material lying around. Reduce humidity by improving ventilation and do not overcrowd plants.
More information on grey mould
Powdery mildew: A white powdery coating over the upper surface of the leaves, which eventually collapse.
Remedy: keep water from the foliage, keep the roots constantly moist and ensure there is good air circulation around the plant.
More on powdery mildew
Fungal leaf spot: Irregular purple/brown spots surrounded by a yellow ring- the spotting spreads throughout the foliage especially in warm, humid conditions. The plant weaken when the infection is severe.
Remedy: remove affected leaves and ventilate covered crops.
Glasshouse red spider mite: Foliage develops yellow flecking and mottling and fine webbing between leaves.
Remedy: Biological control Phytoseiulus persimilisif introduced early. Bifenthrin, plant oils and fatty acids make a good alternative.
More information on Glasshouse red spider mite
Birds: Birds are one of the biggest problems for all soft fruit, including strawberries. Birds love eating the ripening fruit, and will often decimate a whole strawberry patch over a matter of days.
Remedy: Growing fruit under nets is the only sure way of preventing birds eating fruit. Erect taut netting over plants as soon as the berries begin to show some colour. You can net individual plants, or if you grow lots of plants you could make or buy a fruit cage to go over the strawberry patch. There are also many different bird scaring devices for sale, but these usually have limited impact.
Strawberry black eye: This is a physiological problem caused by environmental factors, as opposed to a pest or disease. Strawberry flowers often open before the last frost. Black eye results when frost kills the reproductive parts of the flower, and as a result the flower will not set fruit. It is easily recognisable because the central parts of flowers killed by frost turn black, while the petals remain white.
Remedy: There is no remedy for this problem, once the frost has killed the reproductive part of the flower, you will get no strawberry forming from that flower. Not all flowers will be affected on a plant. The only way to prevent black eye is to not plant strawberries in frost pockets or on exposed sites. Protect plants in flower when frost is forecast with a temporary cover such as horticultural fleece or newspaper.
More information on strawberry black eye
Red core: Caused by the fungus Phytophthora fragariae, red core is recognisable by the appearance of stunted plants with reddish brown leaves in spring. There is no cure but the fungus thrives in damp conditions, so grow plants in well-drained soil or raised beds.
Remedy: Destroy infected plants and grow new plants in a fresh strawberry patch.
Strawberry seed beetle: This black beetle, 1cm (0.5in) long, removes seeds from the outside of the fruit. They also sometimes eat into the fruit itself. Fruits therefore shrivel and rot. Strawberry seed beetles are also attracted by weed seeds, so keeping the strawberry patch weed-free should help reduce numbers.
Remedy: Sinking jam jars into the soil so they fall in might help to reduce numbers. Avoid chemicals because these beetles feed near harvest time.
Verticillium wilt: This fungus causes the foliage on a strawberry plant to wilt. The leaves appear floppy and drooping and the colour changes from green to brown, eventually falling from the plant. In a severe attack, strawberry plants can die within the season.
Remedy: There is no cure available. Immediately the symptoms are spotted, remove the plant and its surrounding soil. Crop rotation helps to avoid this problem, as does never planting strawberries in the same soil twice, nor growing them on sites on which potatoes, tomatoes, or chrysanthemums have been cultivated.
Vine weevil: Adult vine weevils eat notches in the edges of leaves, while plump, creamy white larvae with brown heads cause more damage to the roots, on which they feed. This can kill the plants.
Remedy: Apply chemical control acetamiprid (Scotts Bug Clear Ultra Vine Weevil Killer) or thiacloprid (Provado Vine Weevil Killer 2) as a liquid drench applied to the compost or the biological control, nematode Steinernema kraussei.
More information on vine weevils
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