Have you ever dreamt about having all the strawberries you can eat? With some balcony or patio space, great soil and good strawberry stock, you can enjoy delicious homegrown strawberries.
Strawberries are great for container gardening, they grow fast and compact with a deep container and plenty of compost. The best containers for strawberries are terracotta pots, or you can choose to splurge on a special strawberry planter.
Before we dive into the technicalities, let’s go through some tips you should know.
● Space out the plants so you don’t overcrowd the pots. Strawberries will yield more if they are well spaced out.
● Strawberry is a vining plant, so be ready to snip the runners to encourage it to grow bushier and fruit better. This will also save you space.
● Strawberries are temperature sensitive, so too how or too cold will affect their roots. A temperature below 20° Celsius reduces strawberry metabolism, reducing their capacity to produce fruit. Insulating your pots during the colder months will keep them warm enough to produce the best yield.
● Very hot weather can also destroy strawberry roots and make them susceptible to pests. You should avoid using black containers (they conduct heat very well) and keep pots in a semi-cool area if you live in a hot climate.
Strawberry plant varieties
There are over 100 varieties of strawberry, but everbearing and day-neutral varieties like 'Seascape', 'Temptation' and 'Tristar', tend to be the best choices for containers, because they bear fruit during their first year, and you get an extended harvest period.
They are 3 major classification of strawberries varieties:
1. June-bearing varieties
These varieties are sensitive to day length and typically bear fruit all at once over a three-week period. Planting these varieties in containers is not recommended as they produce runners. These plants tend to grow very fast and are best grown outdoors in a location where they can spread.
2. Everbearing varieties
These varieties continually produce fruit. During spring they bear a big crop, then the yield goes light for summer and picks up again in late summer/fall. These varieties are the best choice for planting in your containers as they produce buds and fruits instead of runners.
3. Day-neutral varieties
These varieties continuously produce buds, fruits, and runners at temperatures between 35° and 85°F (1° to 30°C). They fruit until the first frost.
You can grow different strawberry varieties in the same container for variety. Mixing different varieties together means you’ll be getting the best of both plants during fruiting season.
Location and Lighting
To produce maximum fruit, strawberries need at least six to ten hours of sun each day. They are temperate and warm loving plants.
Your container should be placed where it can receive enough sunlight and nutrition.
Nursery and transplanting
Start strawberries indoors in a sunny corner away from drafts, or buy ready runners from your local nursery. Strawberries are fast growing so expect them to take off after you transplant them. Transplanting should be done according to your discretion when you believe it is stable enough to grow properly in containers.
Aim to start your strawberry plant transplants between August and October, as they start fruiting just before winter. When planting strawberries, sow them 18 to 20 inches apart and 12 to 14 inches deep to allow them to grow deep roots.
It is best to buy runners/buds from local nurseries as they can advise you on the best variety for your region and guide you in your journey.
If you do not have expansive garden or balcony space, get creative with vertical space. You can try hanging baskets, strawberry jars, or window boxes that can hold three to five plants.
If you have large containers like barrels, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Large containers produce more fruits.
Use terracotta or plastic containers for strawberry plants, or a handy barrel if you can find one. Make sure your container has enough drainage holes.
With container plants, success starts with the right soil mix. Strawberry plants grow best in a rich loamy soil with a lot of organic matter (compost like work castings, coco coir, or peat moss). A pH of 5.5 to 7 is recommended for the soil. Strawberries love nitrogen-rich soil.
During a growing season, mulch to minimize water loss, evaporation, and enrich the soil. Use dry organic mulch (leaves, straw, shredded paper towels, etc) instead of wet or rotten materials to mulch strawberry plants.
Strawberry plants should not be planted in soil previously used for tomato plants, pepper plants, or eggplants, as the old soil may contain pathogens that would harm the new plants. It’s best to start your container garden plants with fresh soil mixes.
Watering and fertilizing
Strawberries plants love water, but the rule of thumb is to let the soil almost dry out before giving the plants another drink. Water deeply rather than frequently. A great soil mix and drainage will ensure that your strawberry plant’s roots are not sitting in water.
One farmer’s secret is to water strawberry plants with rain water, which contains water soluble nitrogen and other trace elements that your strawberry plant will love.
Take care not to water your strawberry plants from the top: water your plants at the soil level to prevent fungal spots on the leaves.
During the vining and flowering season, feed your strawberry plants with synthetic NPK-fertilizers with a high nitrogen ratio. Additionally, add natural home-made soil additives such as coffee grounds to strawberry plants in order to help with flower blooming and fruit development.
When your strawberry plants start fruiting, you should stop fertilizing them until after you have harvested the first crop.
Harvest and Storage
Once you harvest and enjoy your own homegrown strawberries, all of your hard work is worth it.
Strawberries that are red, ripe, and have a firm stem should be harvested with sharp, sterilized shears or a garden knife. Don’t pull the fruits off the vines.
After harvesting, strawberries can be eaten or frozen for up to 2 months.