The definitive guide to growing strawberries
This is one of the most comprehensive guides to growing strawberries on the planet.
Whether you are a gardening newbie, a green thumb, or a master agribusiness entrepreneur, you’ll love this guide.
Before “this definitive guide to growing strawberries”, tidbits of information were scattered across the internet.
Now, with the help of some of the best resources available online and my own personal experience, I’ve put it all in one place.
And you can easily sift through the guide based on your individual needs and your level of gardening proficiency.
Without much delay, here’s;
The definitive guide to growing strawberries
Native forms of strawberries adapt to various climates and are indigenous to every major continent except Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
However, with the necessary information and proper conditions, you can start growing strawberries pretty anywhere on the plant.
And I mean the kind of growing that guarantees amazing yields and busting flavor.
For example, each acre of land of strawberry production produces an average of 21 tons of strawberries annually under optimal conditions and care.
An acre of land of strawberry produces an average of 21 tons of strawberries annually
That’s an equivalent of a whopping 21,000 kilograms per acre!
So what do you need to do to realize this kind of yield?
Let’s dive in:
Choose the best Strawberry Varieties for your region
Aside from yield, your choice of strawberry varieties or cultivars will determine a lot of other stuff immensely.
For example, whether or not you’ll be fighting pest and diseases often, your fruits dessert quality, and preserving quality.
Having said that, ensure that you select your desirable strawberry varieties on the basis of dessert quality; preserving quality; your region; disease resistance and the season of maturation.
If you have no idea which strawberry variety (or varieties) is appropriate for your location, be sure to read Introduction to strawberry varieties by Mr. Strawberry.
Another good resource especially for Kenyan based readers is the common strawberry varieties in Kenya by National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS).
As you might have noticed, your choice of which strawberry to grow will determine by a large extent how much you succeed growing strawberries moving forward.
Don’t neglect this step:
Know when to plant your strawberries
In the tropics growing strawberries doesn’t have to follow any specific season.
As long as there’s enough water for irrigation and appropriate sunlight, anytime is a good time to pant your strawberries.
However, the same cannot be said in the temperate regions where conditions keep fluctuating throughout the year.
In such cases, plant strawberries as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring especially from Zone 6 Northward.
This is usually in March or April allowing the plants to become well established before the hot weather arrives.
From zone 7 southward, strawberries can be planted in fall. (In Florida and other warm, humid coastal areas, many are grown as cool weather annuals.)
Once a planting is established, simply lift your healthiest plants each September, and replant them in a freshly renovated site.
Planting the strawberries
Now that the important points are out of the way, let’s explore how to plant strawberries:
You can plant strawberries from seeds or by strawberry runners. But the most common mode of growing strawberries is by runners (splits) otherwise commonly referred to as ‘daughters.’
I guess it’s because runners give much better results in terms of days to maturity.
In general, strawberries require at least 8 hours of full sun each day, and they prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8.
In addition, the strawberry plant is tolerant of different soil types, although prefers loam.
Therefore, begin working in aged manure or compost a couple months before planting.
If soils in your area are naturally alkaline, it is best to grow strawberries in half-barrels or other large containers filled with potting soil.
In fact there are a gazillion of other creative DIY ways for growing strawberries other than in the soil.
One advantage of being creative, is that you can grow more strawberries on less land without expensive amendments to the soil.
Planting Strawberries Step by Step
1. Buy disease-resistant plants from a reputable nursery, of a variety recommended in your region as earlier discussed.
2. Plan to plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. Do not work the soil if it is wet. Wait a few days until it dries.
3. Strawberries are sprawling plants. Seedlings will send out runners, or ‘daughter’ plants, which in turn will send out their own runners.
4. Make planting holes deep and wide enough to accommodate the entire root system without bending it. However, don’t plant too deep: The roots should be covered, but the crown should be right at the soil surface.
5. Try to plant strawberries on a cloudy day or during the late afternoon. Set the strawberry plant in the soil so that the soil is just covering the tops of the roots.
6. Do not cover the crown. After four or five weeks, the plants will produce runners and new daughter plants.
7. Provide adequate space for sprawling. Set plants out 18 inches apart, and leave 4 feet between rows especially for those varieties that produce plenty offspring or runners.
For those that don’t 6 inches apart will suffice.
8. Roots shouldn’t be longer than 8 inches when plants are set out. Trim them if necessary.
9. pH should be between 5.5 and 6.8. If necessary, amend your soil in advance.
10. Strawberry plants require at least 8 hours a day of direct sunlight, so choose your planting site accordingly.
11. Tolerant of different soil types, although prefer loam. Begin working in aged manure or compost a couple months before planting.
12. Planting site must be well-drained. Raised beds are a particularly good option for strawberry plants.
13. Practice crop rotation to avoid incidences of pest and diseases. Do not plant in a site that recently had strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant.
Caring for your strawberry plants
Strawberries are very susceptible to frosts in the spring:
Apply a straw mulch 3 to 4 inches deep over the rows. This mulch will protect the plants from cold temperatures that can kill the buds and injure roots and crowns.
There are several benefits of mulching:
The most important one being heat/warmth retention around the root zone of your strawberries. Other than that, mulch also help to smother weeds and retains moisture for reasonable periods.
Remove the mulch in the spring when the strawberry leaves start to turn yellow.
Leave some of the mulch around the plants to keep the fruit from soil contact and to conserve soil moisture.
Any type of mulch – from black plastic to pine straw to shredded leaves – will keep the soil moist and the plants clean.
Remove mulch in early spring, after danger of frost has passed.
Moisture is incredibly important due to shallow roots.
Water adequately, about one inch per week. Strawberry plants need a lot of water when the runners and flowers are developing and again in the fall when the plants are mature.
Moreover, it’s important to water your strawberries whenever the soil feels dry about an inch below the surface.
You don't want the plants to be sitting in water or soggy soil, but you don't want them to remain dry for days and start to wilt, especially while the fruits are forming.
The soil in containers dries out faster than soil on the ground. Long periods of hot, dry weather may require daily watering and as the plants grow more roots, they will need more frequent watering.
Strawberry plants need a lot of nitrogen in early spring and again in late fall as they are sending out runners and producing berries.
Fertilizer for strawberries may be a commercial 10-10-10 food or, if you are growing organically, any of a number of organic fertilizers, which you should apply before planting.
After the first harvest in the second season strawberries should be fertilized after renovation in July. Water the fertilizer in to get it down to the root zone.
This application is made to keep the plants in a vigorous condition and to promote new growth causing the development of more fruit buds.
Do not over fertilize.
Over-fertilization will cause excessive vegetative growth, reduce yields; increase losses from frost and foliar disease and result in winter injury.
Disbudding or Blossom Removal
In most regions, strawberries will start initial flowering around April.
When that happens, remove flowers of June-bearing strawberries as soon as they appear. Removing the flowers promotes root and runner development thereby ensuring a large crop the following year.
For ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberries, remove the flowers until the end of June and then after that date allow the flowers to remain to set fruit for a summer/fall harvest.
As a rule of the thumb, pick off blossoms in the first year to discourage strawberry plants from fruiting. If not allowed to bear fruit, they will spend their food reserves on developing healthy roots.
Doing this will ensure that the yields are much greater in the second year.
Crop rejuvenation or renewal
After a while your strawberries will take a rest from production. When that happens, you’ll need to give them better conditions to bounce back otherwise called renovation.
Renovation is an important part of strawberry care:
In order to insure good fruit production, June-bearing strawberries grown in the matted row system should be renovated every year right after harvest.
A strawberry patch will continue to be productive for three to four years as long as the planting is maintained.
The first step in the renovation process is to mow the old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns.
Rake the leaves and if disease-free, compost or incorporate into the soil. Fertilize with one pound of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Narrow the rows to six to twelve inches wide by spading, hoeing or rototilling. Remove all weeds.
Thin the plants in the narrowed row to 4 to 6 inches between plants. Water with one inch of water per week to promote growth and to make new runners for next year's crop.
Recommended: Growing Garlic for Beginners: The Definitive Guide
Pest and Disease Control in Growing Strawberries
1. Strawberry Crown Borer
Damage is caused by the larvae boring into the crown of the plant.
The crown can be so hollowed out following the weevil feeding that death occurs to the plant. In addition, adults feed on leaves and may chew holes in the crown prior to oviposition.
To control strawberry crown borer, crop rotation is key since the beetles migrate only by adult crawling along the ground. Also, avoid planting strawberry patches closer than 300 yards to old plantings.
In addition, deep plowing and compacting of the soil destroys many hibernating weevils.
2. Strawberry Root Weevil
The larvae feed on the roots of strawberry plants.
Strawberry root weevils, are attracted to moisture and can be trapped in shallow pans of water placed around foundations or walls of the house. You can use small water pools to attract and trap the weevils.
3. White Grubs
Heavy white grub infestations can destroy the roots of your strawberry to an extent of killing the entire plant.
Insect parasitic nematodes are available to curatively suppress various white grub species. Two major species available for suppressing grubs are Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp.
1. Leaf rollers
When numbers of leaf rollers are very high, you may need chemical help.
Bacillus thuringiensis works as a stomach poison to feeding caterpillars, and is extremely effective if applied to these pests and their food source while they’re young.
The most common mite pest of strawberry crops is two-spotted mite (Tetranychus urticae), also known as spider mite or red-spider mite.
It has a wide range of alternative hosts which provide a constant source of mites to infest strawberry crops.
Mottled, brown leaves are caused by mites feeding on the undersides of the leaves in low numbers. As infestation builds, the mites move up and infest the whole plant and the characteristic fine webbing is seen.
Plants which have been severely infested are stunted and may die. Damage usually results in lower yields.
Miticides are registered for use in strawberry crops, but should be managed carefully. Repeated applications of the same miticide can result in the development of resistance to the chemical and reduced or no control of the pest.
Biological control using predatory mites is now the main approach used by strawberry growers.
3. Strawberry Rootworm
The most severe damage is caused by the adult beetles, which eat holes in the leaves. When adults are abundant, leaves are riddled with holes giving the plants a ragged appearance.
Flower and Fruit-feeding Pests
1. Eastern Flower Thrips
To determine whether or not thrips control is warranted, you should begin sampling for thrips by examining early flower clusters on early varieties and continue sampling all varieties as they begin to bloom.
Tap flowers onto a white or very dark plate or saucer, and look for the slender yellow thrips.
Alternatively, flower blossoms can be placed into a zip lock bag and shaken to dislodge thrips and allow counting.
Although the relationship between thrips density and damage is not well understood, control is probably warranted only if populations exceed 2-10 thrips per blossom
Slugs often chew holes in strawberries just as they begin to ripen. Organic mulches such as straw encourage slugs, so where slugs are a problem, a plastic mulch helps.
3. Strawberry Clipper
First, they feed on immature pollen by puncturing the blossom buds with their long snouts.
To determine if a pesticide treatment is necessary, walk random rows of plants, keeping track of the number of cut buds per linear foot of row.
Sample five separate 10-foot sections from throughout the field. Divide the total number of cut buds observed by the total number of linear row feet inspected.
If more than one cut bud per linear row foot is found, a pesticide treatment is justified.
4. Strawberry Sap Beetle
Sap beetles can directly injure fruits and vegetables, however they are more often found on fruit/vegetables that have been damaged by another insect, or infected with a disease.
For example, in strawberries sap beetles may often be seen on berries that also infected with a disease. This is because fermenting fruit smell attracts them.
Keeping your garden free of overripe fruit and vegetables is extremely important. Remove any damaged, diseased, and overripe strawberry fruits from the area at regular intervals.
5. Tarnished Plant Bug
Plant bugs are a large, diverse family of insects that typically feed on plant parts with high rates of cell division, including buds and flowers.
They feed by sucking sap from plants:
Tarnished plant bugs cause abortion of young fruit or buds, deformation of fruit, and necrosis near the site of feeding.
Weed management influences tarnished plant bug management.
Preventing weeds from forming young buds and flowers will keep populations lower in the weedy areas. Once weeds flower and the tarnish plant bugs colonize them, the bugs will tend to remain in the weeds unless the weeds start to senescence, dry, or are mowed.
1. Gray Mold of Strawberry
2. Leaf Variegation or June Yellows in Strawberries
3. Strawberry Leaf Diseases
4. Strawberry Red Stele Root Rot
5. Verticillium Wilt of Strawberry
Handling and storage of the strawberry fruits
Pick strawberries in the morning, when the fruits are cool, and immediately put them in the refrigerator or under cool temperature.
Use strawberries as soon after harvesting or purchasing as possible. Refrigerator storage does not improve the quality of fresh strawberries. Berries should not be left at room temperature for more than a few hours.
Warm temperatures cause a browning effect in strawberries. The pigments that make strawberries red, anthocyanin, are heat sensitive.
They break apart and turn brown when exposed to heat. Strawberries also lose heat-sensitive Vitamin C during browning, heating and cooking.
Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most.
Do not wash berries until ready to use.
To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to set in water as they will lose color and flavor.
After washing, remove the green cap with a plastic-tipped vegetable peeler or paring knife without removing any of the fruit.
Success in growing strawberries demands that you take consistent action.
I’ve given you the definitive guidelines to growing strawberries
Start with one or two tactics, and once you’re comfortable with them, come back, read the entire guide and apply the rest.
I’d love it if you shared the results you’ve had from implementing any of these methods. Leave your thoughts in a comment below.