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Fresh, hand-picked strawberries are a delicacy, and there are so many ways to use them — bake with them, turn them into jam, blend them up into frozen cocktails, or just eat them straight off the vine!
You might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have enough outdoor space to grow my own strawberries.” But strawberries are surprisingly easy to grow both indoors and outside — so no matter whether you live on a sprawling multi-acre farm or in a tiny urban apartment, there’s a way to make it happen.
Here’s what you need to know about how to plant, grow, care for, and harvest strawberries at home.
While growing strawberries from seed is an option (more on that in a minute), the easiest way to grow strawberries, especially for beginners, is by purchasing starter plants from your local nursery or home improvement store. You can also order live strawberry plants and strawberry seedlings online from retailers like Bonnie Plants or Burpee.
As you start shopping for strawberry plants, you’ll quickly discover that there are tons of varieties to choose from — in fact, there are more than 100, from tiny Alexandria alpine strawberries to big, juicy Jewel strawberries!
There are a few things to consider when you’re choosing a strawberry variety, including:
- Where you live
- How you plan to use the berries, as certain varieties are better for jams or freezing
- When you want the plants to bear fruit — ever-bearing strawberries produce fruit all summer, while June-bearing varieties have one big crop
- Whether you want to produce “runners,” or new strawberry plants
The staff at your local nursery should be able to steer you toward an appropriate variety. They’ll also carry types that will thrive in your local climate. And, if all else fails, there are numerous online guides to the best strawberry plants to help you sort through your options.
When in doubt, “Surecrop” strawberry plants are a good choice, as they’re hardy and disease-resistant, and produce large, sweet berries. Plus, they can grow in most all hardiness zones across the U.S. (Check out the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map here.)
If you want to grow strawberry plants from seed, you’ll need to start them in the winter to give them ample time to sprout and mature. (West Coast Seeds has a comprehensive guide to starting strawberry seeds.)
A seedling heat mat can help to ensure your seeds germinate, and once spring rolls around, your plants should be big enough to transplant into a garden or growing container. Then again, if you get a late start, they may not produce fruit their first year.
Once you have your plants, it’s time to set them up in their new home.
If you don’t have an outdoor garden, it’s no biggie — strawberry plants do quite well in containers, since they have shallow roots. You’ll want to choose a pot that has good drainage and fill it with a mixture of high-quality potting mix and compost.
There are special terra cotta strawberry pots that can be used both inside or outside, and they have holes on the sides where you can place several plants. But these planters can be tricky to water, and terra cotta dries out soil rather quickly because of its porous nature, so you’ll have to be vigilant about caring for your plants.
Strawberries will also grow happily in a hanging basket, window box, or regular planter. Growing strawberry plants in hanging baskets can also help prevent pests that might otherwise affect them at ground level. (Be gone, slugs and aphids!)
If you want to increase your yield and let your strawberry plants produce runners, your best bet is planting strawberries outdoors in a raised bed. You can build raised beds fairly easily, or home improvement stores sell raised bed kits that set up in a matter of minutes.
For strawberry varieties that produce offspring, you’ll want to place plants around 18 inches apart — this will give their babies room to grow and root.
On the other hand, some varieties of strawberries don’t produce runners, and these plants can be spaced 6 inches apart from each other. Be sure to cover the roots of each plant in soil but leave the crown, or central growing bud, above the ground. If you bury the crown, the plant may rot. And that would be sad.
Finally, you may also want to invest in some sort of garden net to protect outdoor strawberry plants. After all, the birds love those delicious red berries as much as we do!
Once your strawberry plants are comfortable in their new home, they’ll need plenty of light, water, and fertilizer to thrive. Strawberry plants do best with 8 hours of full sun each day. (They can get by with less, but you might not get as many berries.)
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on how often to water your strawberries. Some experts say strawberries need around 1 inch of water a week, but it will really depend on where they’re planted, as well as the weather.
If your plants are in containers, they’ll need to be watered more frequently than plants in the ground, and you’ll want to give your plants extra moisture on hot, dry days. On the flip side, outdoor plants probably don’t need to be watered if it’s rained recently. Just remember: When in doubt, it’s better for your strawbs to be slightly dry than soggy.
Oh, and one other tip: For garden strawberries, a light layer of mulch helps suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Finally, to increase your berry bounty, feed your strawberries an organic fertilizer that’s made for fruit-bearing plants.
Strawberries will ripen around 30 days after their blooms are fertilized, according to Bonnie Plants, and then comes the fun part: harvesting and enjoying your crop!
Pick ripe, red berries each morning, and resist the urge to leave them on the vine longer. Ripe berries will rot quickly, if they’re not eaten by birds or other critters first.
Place fresh strawberries in the refrigerator for storage, and wash them only right before you use them. If you wash them before you put them into the fridge, they’re more likely to spoil.
Tired of harvesting strawberries only to have them get gross and mushy before you can put them to good use in a shortcake? Check out this vid for a tip that makes them last a little longer.