Strawberries are the earliest fruit to harvest in spring. Strawberries also come to harvest in summer and fall, and in winter as well in many regions—if you plant the right varieties.
Strawberries are easy to grow but they do require some attention to ensure a bountiful crop.
Choose cultivars that grow well in your region. Give each plant a square foot of space. Keep the soil just moist. Keep runners under control (and use them to start new plants). Protect plants from frost in spring and freezing temperatures in winter. Harvest at the peak of ripeness, not later. Clean planting beds thoroughly at the end of the season.
A strawberry plant will be productive for three years then it must be replaced. Following a simple cycle of care and renewal, your strawberry bed will produce this sweet crop for years.
Best Climate and Site for Growing Strawberries
- Strawberries grow best in Zones 3 to 10; some cultivars are colder tolerant than others. Choose cultivars appropriate for your climate.
- Grow strawberries in full sun. Day-neutral strawberries can tolerate light afternoon shade.
- Plant strawberries in compost-rich, loamy soil with excellent drainage. Where drainage is poor, plant strawberries on a mounded or raised bed.
- Avoid planting strawberries in low spots where cold air or frost can linger and injure spring blossoms. Do not plant strawberries where there is a constant wind or breeze.
- Avoid planting strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, potatoes eggplant, melon, okra, mints, raspberries, blackberries, or roses have grown before. Diseases that attack these plants can remain in the soil and attack strawberries.
Types of Strawberries
There are four types of strawberries:
- June-bearing (also called summer-bearing): these strawberries ripen a single crop each year, usually in late spring or early summer. These strawberries will set fruit the year after they are planted.
- Ever-bearing: these strawberries bear two crops each year; the first crop comes in summer and is small; the second crop comes in fall and is larger. Ever-bearers produce their first crop the same year they are planted. Sometimes they are grown as annuals and not wintered over for a second or third year. Ever-bearers grow best where late summer weather is cool, not hot.
- Day-neutral: these strawberries bear fruit in spring, summer, and fall–throughout the growing season as long as the temperature remains between 35°F and 85° They will even produce fruit in winter if temperatures do not drop below 35°F. Day-neutral strawberries were developed from everbearing strawberries. They will bear fruit about 12 weeks after planting. They can be grown as annuals.
- Alpine: these wild strawberries bear very small, very flavorful fruits from late spring through fall. The yield is very small. They are grown from seed, not runners, unlike other strawberries.
- Purchase certified disease-free strawberries if you are growing plants from runners. Strawberries are susceptible to the diseases Verticillium wilt, red stele, and leaf spot and they are subject to viral diseases. Plant disease-free plants.
- Consider fruit size, firmness, and flavor intensity when selecting strawberries to grow. Plant labels will describe the fruit. Firmer fruit cultivars are better for freezing and preserving.
- Choose a combination of early harvest, mid-season harvest, and late-season harvest cultivars to extend the harvest. Plant two or more cultivars with differing harvest times to spread out the harvest season. See Types of Strawberries above.
- Consider the number of runners a plant will produce. Runners can be rooted to start new plants, but they also can overrun a planting bed if they are not controlled. Runner production increases in number from day-neutral (the fewest) to ever-bearing to June-bearing types; alpine strawberries to not send out runners.
- Strawberries are self-fruitful. You need only one plant to produce fruit.
- June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral strawberry plants will produce a half-pound to one pound of fruit each season, about a quart of berries per plant. Alpine strawberries produce a quarter of that amount.
How to Plant Strawberries
- In cold winter regions, Zones 3 to 6, plant strawberries in early spring. In mild winter regions, Zones 7 to 10, plant strawberries in spring, fall, or late winter.
- Plant bare-root strawberries in spring or fall. Avoid planting bare-root or container-grown strawberries in hot, dry weather.
- Prepare the planting bed ahead of planting strawberries. Remove all perennial weeds. Dig in plenty of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix ahead of planting. Strawberries prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
- Prepare a planting bed or mound 6 inches high and 24 inches wide. Allow four feet between mounds or planting rows. Mounded or raised beds increase early rooting and promote better first-year growth.
- Hill Planting System: use this planting method for ever-bearing or day-neutral strawberries; set plants in double, raised (or hilled) rows; space the rows 18 inches apart. Space ever-bearers 12 inches apart and day-neutrals 7 inches apart. Stagger the plants (plant in a zig-zag) across the two raised rows. Regularly pinch out all runners that form. Select cultivars that don’t make a lot of runners.
- Matted Row Planting System: June-bearing strawberries that produce lots of runners can fill up space fast. Create a planting bed 18 to 24 inches wide. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart in all directions. Allow the runners to spread out, root, and fill in the open space. Mow along the edges of the planting bed to keep plants from growing into the walkways. If you allow the runners to root wherever they touch down, you will be following the matted row system. This planting method requires the least amount of maintenance. This method allows runners to constantly form baby plants for next year’s production.
- To reduce soil moisture evaporation and keep down weeds, a row can be covered with plastic sheeting or mulch. Cut X-shaped slits in the plastic; plant through the slits into the soil.
- Dig a hole twice as wide and half again as deep as the roots of the plant. Make a cone of soil at the bottom of the hole so that roots can fan out from the top of the cone.
- Sprinkle bonemeal in the planting hole.
- Moisten the roots of bare root strawberries before planting; soak the roots in compost tea for 20 minutes before planting. Cut the roots of bare-root plants back to 5 inches with a pair of scissors before planting.
- The crown of the plant should be just covered with soil, but not buried. New leaf buds in the center of the plant should be exposed and level with the surrounding soil. Roots should never be exposed.
- Place straw around each plant if you did not cover the planting bed with plastic sheeting. The straw will keep fruits from touching the soil. Straw mulch will keep the berries up off the soil and allow air to circulate beneath the fruit.
- Water in newly planted plants and keep the soil evenly moist going forward.
- Pinch our all flower buds for three months after planting so plants can channel energy into growing strong roots.
- Allow one square foot for each plant. Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart.
Container Growing Strawberries
- Strawberries are easily grown in containers. Grow compact varieties in containers.
- Choose cultivars with few runners such as day-neutral or Alpine strawberries.
- Choose a container at least 8 inches deep and wide for each plant. Use a commercial potting mix in each container.
- Keep soil evenly moist throughout the growing season; do not let the soil dry out.
- Once flowering begins feed plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion once a week.
- As needed, move containers to a sunny location.
- Keep containers raised off the ground to protect plants from slugs.
- Containers can be brought indoors in winter to continue the harvest; plants need abundant light and cool temperatures indoors.
- Replace plants every two or three years.
Watering and Feeding Strawberries
- Keep the soil evenly moist especially from flowering until fruits start to color; when fruits begin to mature let the soil surface dry between waterings. Strawberries are shallow-rooted and need even moisture especially in dry weather.
- Water at the base of plants; wet leaves and fruit can trigger gray mold or leaf spot diseases. Soil that is not well-drained can cause root rot disease.
- Kelp spray improves fruit set and enhances bud hardiness; spray blossoms prior to full bloom.
- Apply compost tea to June- and ever-bearers once in early summer; apply compost tea to day-neutral plants once a month during the growing season.
- Overfertilizing and overwatering strawberries will increase the yield but compromise flavor.
Strawberry Care and Maintenance
- Keep planting beds weeded. Weeds compete for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight.
- Place fresh straw between the rows in spring; straw will help conserve soil moisture, reduce weeds, and keep fruits up off the soil. Mulch will reduce the spread of disease spores in splashing rain or irrigation.
- Plastic mulch can be used in cooler regions where the plastic will increase the soil temperature and keep berries off the soil.
- Pinch off flowers on newly planted strawberries until early summer. Late winter and spring flowers are susceptible to frost damage.
- Renovate beds right after harvest; this will slow the buildup of disease organisms. Thin plants removing older and diseased plants; leave the youngest and most vigorous.
- Remove surplus runners; cut them off close to the parent plant with sharp pruners; pot them up or replant them in the garden.
- Renovate strawberry beds after harvest each year. Remove three-year-old plants making room for more productive younger plants. Also, remove excess young plants; each plant should have about one square foot of space. Removed young plants can be transplanted to another bed.
- If space allows, replant in a new location every two or three years. The new bed will begin producing when plants in the old bed are finished.
- For a long harvest plant some of each type of strawberry, June-bearers, ever-bearers, and day-neutrals.
- Strawberries ripen about 30 days after flowering. Check plants every day; berries ripen quickly.
- Pick berries when they are full-colored, tender, and sweet. Pinch off the stem when you harvest and avoid pulling the berry itself. Ripe berries along with their cap will separate easily from the stem.
- Fruit can be refrigerated for a few days, not more than a week; freeze berries for longer storage. For storing, pick berries when the ends are slightly white; they will continue to ripen and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
- Don’t leave rotting berries in the garden; dispose of them; removing rotting fruit will prevent the spread of disease.
- Most strawberries propagate themselves by runners; the mother plant sends out runners soon after producing fruit. Runners tip root about a foot away from the mother plant.
- Transplant rooted runners to start new plants
- If a plant makes few runners; you can divide the crown with a sharp knife and replant the crown pieces.
Strawberry Diseases and Pests
- Gray mold (Botrytis blight) produces a fuzzy gray coating on blossoms and berries; remove and destroy damaged flowers and fruits; harvest fruits frequently before they become infected; spray plants with compost tea, a natural fungicide.
- Red stele (root rot) causes plants to wilt. To check for red stele, dig up wilted plants; if there are no side roots or the roots are reddish inside when cut lengthwise, red stele is to blame. Remove and destroy infected plants. Plant stele-resistant cultivars such as ‘Allstar’, ‘Delite’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Surecrop’, and ‘Tristar’.
- Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease that causes older leaves to turn red or brown and young leaves to turn yellow and wilt. There is no cure; remove and destroy infected plants. Plant resistant cultivars include ‘Allstar’, ‘Blakemore’, ‘Delite’, ‘Robinson’, ‘Surecrop’, and ‘Tristar’.
- Leaf spot is a fungal disease that causes small brown or gray spots on leaves; leaf tissue deteriorates and dies; eventually leaves will drop. Remove dropped leaves from plantings; clean beds at the end of each season. Plant resistant cultivars include ‘Blakemore’, ‘Delite’, ‘Earlibelle’, and ‘Surecrop’.
- Crown moth larvae or crown borers are white grubs that will hollow out the center of the crown as they feed. Remove and destroy infected plants. Set out traps for adult moths.
- Slugs eat leaves and fruits. Exclude these pests by handpicking and destroying them, sprinkling diatomaceous earth around beds, or trapping them in shallow saucers of beer where they will drown.
- Tarnished plant bugs are small green or brown bugs that feed on fruits and cause them to be distorted; cover plants with a floating row cover while the fruit is developing to exclude these pests.
- Birds feed on berries; cover planting beds with bird netting.
Fall and Winter Strawberry Care
- At the end of the season mow or cut off the leaves of all strawberry plants; place the leaves in the trash. Plants will grow new leaves the following season. Leaves that remain in the garden can harbor disease.
- Remove three-year-old plants in winter; also remove unwanted younger strawberry plants.
- In early winter cover plant crowns with 2 or 3 inches of straw to prevent cold damage; plants can be damaged by winter freezing and thawing; the plant can be heaved from the soil and roots broken.
- Pull back or remove the mulch in early spring when plants begin to grow again; add fresh straw between the rows.
Growing Strawberries in Winter
- Day-neutral strawberries will continue to fruit regardless of the length of day as long as temperatures do not drop below 50° Strawberries will continue to fruit in winter in mild-winter regions.
- Day-neutral strawberries will continue to grow and fruit indoors.
- Grow day-neutral strawberries under plastic tunnel or cloches in winter.
Strawberry Varieties to Grow by Region
See Strawberry Varieties for Home Gardens for a description of several dozen garden strawberries.
- California and Southwest: ‘Camarosa’ ‘Chandler’ ‘Douglas’, ‘Lassen’, ‘Marshall’, ‘Quinault’, ‘Sequoia’, ‘Shasta’
- East: ‘Fletcher’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Jerseybelle’, ‘Marlate’, ‘Ozark Beauty’, ‘Raritan’, ‘Redchief’, ‘Sunrise’, ‘Vesper’
- Mid-Atlantic Coast: ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Raritan’, ‘Surecrop’
- Midwest: ‘Canoga’, ‘Catskill’, ‘Cyclone’, ‘Dunlap’, ‘Earliglow’, ‘Fletcher’, ‘Gem’, ‘Geneva’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Holiday’. ‘Howard 17’, ‘Jewel’, ‘Midland’, ‘Midway’, ‘Ogallala’, ‘Ozark Beauty’, ‘Robinson’, ‘Sparkle’, ‘Surecrop’
- Mid-South: ‘Ozark Beauty’, ‘Suwannee’, ‘Tennessee Beauty’
- North: ‘Dunlap’, ‘Empire’, ‘Fairfax’, ‘Fletcher’, ‘Jewel’, ‘Premier’, ‘Robinson’
- Northeast: ‘Canoga’, ‘Catskill’, ‘Cyclone’, ‘Dunlap’, ‘Earliglow’, ‘Fairfax’, ‘Fletcher’, ‘Gem’, ‘Geneva’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Holiday’. ‘Howard 17’, ‘Jewel’, ‘Midland’, ‘Midway’, ‘Northeaster’, ‘Redstar’, ‘Robinson’, ‘Sparkle’, ‘Red Coat’, ‘Sparkle’, ‘Trumpeter’
- Northwest: ‘Hood’, ‘Northwest’, ‘Olympus’, ‘Puget Beauty’, ‘Quinault’, ‘Rainier’, ‘Selva’, ‘Totem’, ‘Tribute’
- South and Gulf Coast: ‘Albritton’, ‘Blakemore’, ‘Cardinal’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Dixieland’, ‘Earlibelle’, ‘Florida Ninety’, ‘Guardian’, ‘Headliner’, ‘Marlate’, ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Redchief’, ‘Sunrise’, ‘Surecrop’, ‘Suwannee’, ‘Tennessee Beauty’, ‘Tangi’
- Southern Plains: ‘Cardinal’, ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Trumpeter’
- Upper Plains and the Rockies: ‘Cyclone’, ‘Dunlap’, ‘Fort Laramie’, ‘Ogallala’, ‘Sparkle’, ‘Trumpeter’
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