The quintessential fruit of summer, strawberries taste best when home grown – of course!
There are summer-fruiting, perpetual and alpine types to choose from, with many delicious varieties of each. And if you plant several different types, you can have home-grown harvests from early summer through to autumn. Many strawberries even produce new plantlets (or runners) after fruiting, so you can easily increase your plants every year or use them to replace older plants that are past their best.
Month by Month
If you grow several varieties, you can have strawberries throughout the summer
There are three main types of strawberries, each with different characteristics:
Summer-fruiting strawberries – these are the most popular type and produce the largest fruit. They have a short but heavy cropping period of two or three weeks. There are early-, mid- and late-fruiting cultivars, cropping from early to mid-summer. If covered with cloches or grown in a greenhouse from late winter, they will provide even earlier harvests.
Perpetual strawberries – sometimes called everbearers, they produce small flushes of fruit over a long period, from early summer until the first autumn frosts. The crops are not as large as summer-fruiting varieties, the fruits are smaller and plants are less likely to produce runners.
Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) – also known as wild or woodland strawberries, these dainty plants produce small crops of tiny, aromatic berries intermittently over the summer. These are usually red, but a few varieties have white or yellow berries. Planted in sun or light shade, they can be left to fend for themselves. Some produce runners (baby plants on long stems), spreading to form low ground cover, others don’t produce runners so make well-behaved edging plants for veg beds and borders.
There are many different varieties of all three types, with variations in flavour, sweetness, fruit size and colour, disease-resistance, harvest time and even flower colour. If you plant several varieties with different cropping periods, you can have delicious berries from early summer through to the first frosts. Look in particular for varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
What and where to buy
Summer-fruiting and perpetual strawberries can be bought as potted plants or bare-root plantlets known as runners, while alpine strawberries can also be grown from seed:
Young plants in pots or packs of plug plants are normally on sale from late spring onwards
Runners look like little clumps of roots with very few leaves. Don’t be alarmed, this is how they should look. You can buy runners in late summer/early autumn or early spring
Cold-stored runners are available from late spring to early summer – these specially prepared runners will fruit about two months after planting
Alpine strawberries can be bought as young plants or grown from seed sown indoors in spring or autumn
Always buy strawberry plants from a reputable supplier, so that the variety is true to type and plants are disease free. They are readily available in garden centres and from online suppliers.
Preparing the Ground
Before planting, weed the site thoroughly, then improve the soil by digging in two buckets of well-rotted manure or garden compost per square metre/yard. You can also rake in a high potassium general fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 or blood, fish and bonemeal, using half a handful per square metre/yard.
Many gardeners grow strawberries through weed-suppressing membrane (ideally biodegradable), put in place before planting. This prevents weed growth, holds water in the soil and stops soil splashing onto the fruit. Simply lay it over your planting area, pinning it in place with U-shaped pieces of wire, then cut holes in it to plant into the soil underneath.
While summer-fruiting and perpetual strawberries are only grown from runners or young plants, alpine strawberries can also be grown from seed indoors, although germination can be slow and unreliable:
Firm the compost gently, then scatter the seeds thinly and evenly over the surface and lightly cover with sharp sand
Place a clear plastic bag or sheet of glass over the pot or tray to maintain humidity and shade until germination. Autumn-sown seeds should be overwintered in a coldframe
Germination requires 18–21°C (65–70°F) and can be slow and erratic
As soon as the seedlings have two true leaves and are big enough to handle, prick them out to 2.5cm (1in) apart
- Plant out in May, into a sunny or lightly shaded spot, in the ground or in a container
Strawberries are traditionally grown in rows in a dedicated bed or strawberry patch. They also work well as an edging for veg beds or flower borders. Another good option is to grow them in containers, including large pots, grow bags, hanging baskets and windowboxes. This avoids the problem of soil diseases building up in strawberry beds, and the fruits are less likely to be damaged by slugs or snails. However, vine weevils can be a problem.
Plant strawberries in mid-spring or in late summer/early autumn – no later than the first week of September in northern Britain and the second week of September in southern regions. Planting in August or early September gives them longer to get established before fruiting, so they should produce a better crop.
Strawberries like fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. In poor or heavy soil, it’s preferable to plant them in raised beds, which provide better drainage and increased rooting depth. They grow best and produce the sweetest fruits in full sun, but will tolerate some shade. Alpine strawberries thrive in light shade. Avoid planting strawberries in sites prone to late frosts, which can damage the flowers and cause strawberry black eye, or in exposed locations, which make it hard for pollinating insects to reach the flowers. Also, don’t plant in ground that has previously been used for potatoes, chrysanthemums or tomatoes, because they’re all prone to the disease verticillium wilt.
Planting in the ground
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots and water well to soak the soil. Trim the roots lightly to 10cm (4in) if necessary, then spread them out in the hole. Replace the soil, ensuring that the base of the crown rests lightly on the surface, before firming in gently with your fingers. Planting at the correct depth is important – if the crown is planted too deeply it will rot, if it’s planted too shallowly the plant will dry out and die. Water well to settle the soil around the roots. Space plants 35–40cm (14–16in) apart, in rows 75–100cm (30in–3ft) apart.
You can also place a biodegradable mulch mat or re-usable strawberry collar around each plant to deter weeds and keep the fruits off the soil.
Also see our guide to planting perennials, below, which is the same method as planting strawberries.
Planting in containers
Strawberries grow well in pots on a sunny patio if watered regularly
Simply fill a large container with peat-free multi-purpose or soil-based compost, and plant with the crown just level with the surface. Space plants 10–20cm (4–8in) apart. Position the container in a sheltered, sunny spot and water regularly.
Growing in a greenhouse or under cloches
In an unheated greenhouse, strawberries will fruit a couple of weeks ahead of outdoor plants
Cloches should give you fruits at least a week ahead of unprotected plants, and an unheated greenhouse about two weeks ahead, so you could be enjoying ripe berries as early as late April.
A bed of summer-fruiting strawberries usually lasts up to four years if planted into well-drained, fertile soil. To avoid disease build-up, replace the plants every three years, making a new bed in a different location.
Water new plants frequently while they are establishing, and water all strawberry plants during dry periods in the growing season. Plants in containers, especially hanging baskets, need regular watering whatever the weather, as the small amount of compost dries out very quickly.
When watering strawberries, try to avoid wetting the crown (centre) of the plant or the fruit, as this can lead to fungal problems, especially grey mould. It’s best to water in the mornings rather than the evenings, so if the plants or fruit do get splashed, they have plenty of time to dry out. If growing plants through biodegradable membrane, consider installing a seep hose underneath, as rainwater penetration may be reduced.
Put a layer of straw around your plants to keep the fruit clean and dry
With strawberries planted in autumn or early spring:
remove the first flush of flowers on perpetual strawberry plants, so they concentrate on getting established
only remove the first flowers on summer-fruiting types if the plants are weak
With cold-stored runners planted in late spring to early summer, leave the flowers on. These will produce strawberries about 60 days after planting, reverting to their natural cropping period the following year.
Protecting flowers and fruit
Strawberry plants are hardy, but if frost is forecast while they’re in flower or have early fruits, cover with hessian or horticultural fleece over night, removing it in the morning.
Unless your plants are growing through biodegradable membrane, protect developing berries from wet soil by placing biodegradable strawberry mulch mats or straw under the fruits as they begin to swell. This also helps to keep the berries clean and suppress weeds.
To prevent birds eating the fruit, build a framework of bamboo canes over the plants and cover with netting or chicken wire as soon as the berries start to ripen. Wire mesh will also deter squirrels. If using netting, keep it taut and well anchored around the bottom, to stop birds getting tangled in it. A temporary fruit cage about 1.2m (4ft) high will allow you easy access for picking. Remove the protection after harvesting to allow birds to feed on any pests.
Strawberries can be propagated from runners (plantlets produced on long stems) in late summer, but no later than early autumn:
Sink 9cm (3½in) pots, filled with peat-free multi-purpose compost, beside your strawberry plants and insert individual runners into them
Peg them down with U-shaped pieces of wire, about 15cm (6in) long
Keep well-watered to promote root growth
Sever the new young plants from the parent plant when rooted
Perpetual strawberries produce few runners and new plants usually have to be bought in.
Alpine strawberries may also self-seed, if not all the fruits are harvested.
When harvesting, choose only fully ripe strawberries, as they won’t ripen further once picked
Eat them as soon as possible – they don’t keep well once ripe. You can freeze them too, but they don’t usually hold their shape when defrosted, although they’re still useful for smoothies and desserts.
Plant spare runners (plantlets produced on long stems) into any gaps in the row or use them to replace old plants. Remove any unwanted runners to prevent overcrowding
Some gardeners prefer a continuous row in the second and third year, rather than spaced plants. The overall crop may be higher, but the quality of fruits is not as good. Whichever method you use, keep a clear gap between the rows to give you access for weeding and harvesting
With summer-fruiting strawberries, once cropping has finished, cut off the old leaves about 10cm (4in) above the crown to allow fresh leaves to develop. This isn’t necessary with autumn-fruiting plants – instead just remove the old leaves during the end-of-season clear-up
Remove the straw mulch, if used. Also remove re-usable strawberry collars and store them carefully for next year
Take off any netting or temporary fruit cages, so birds can feed on any pests
Strawberries can be affected by various problems. To ensure you get a good crop, protect the flowers from late frosts, as well as the ripening fruits from birds, squirrels and slugs. Vine weevil larvae are partial to strawberry plants in containers or grown through biodegradable membrane, but can be kept in check with biological controls. Several viruses, insects and diseases can also affect strawberries – see Common problems, below.
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