• Jennifer Sartell

How to Grow Strawberries

Strawberry season is approaching rapidly!

One of the best things about strawberries is that they are a perennial, which means they will come back year-to-year. However, they are not a set-it-and-forget-it perennial. The plants will come back each year, and spread, but new plants need to be introduced occasionally to provide a continuous berry crop each season. In foliage alone, they make a beautiful, useful ground-cover.

In our home, strawberries are the quintessential flavor of early summer. If the Fourth of July had a flavor it would be strawberry. Ever since I was a girl, my family and I have gone strawberry picking. We’d get up early on a Saturday morning with our sun hats and a cooler full of beverages and head out to Middleton Berry Farm where we’d spend the day filling baskets with delicious ripe berries.

I will always remember the smell of the field. Like someone misted a berry scented haze over the area.

We’d bring our pounds and pounds of berries home and my mom and I, assembly-line-style, would wash and stem the berries. Some would go into baggies for the freezer, others would be made into pies, some would be sugared for strawberry shortcake and the rest would be made into delicious strawberry jam.

Grow Different Varieties for a Continuous Harvest

Now that we have our own farm, we’ve been working over the past few years to create a substantial strawberry patch. Right now we have 4 different varieties that we are growing; an early variety, an ever-bearing, a wild strawberry transplant and a new variety for us Alpine Yellow, which is an heirloom that’s supposed to taste reminiscent of pineapple.

An early bearing strawberry variety will produce an abundance of fruit all at once, earlier in the season. For us, in Michigan, that’s around mid June. Around this time our ever bearing fruits will begin to produce as well. This overlap in fruiting is when I get enough berries to can, freeze and make other foods that require more fruit.

After this, the ever bearing fruit ripens throughout the rest of mid summer and we get handfuls at a time to enjoy as snacks or in smoothies.

Strawberries have a pretty short shelf life when you purchase them from a store, or even from a berry farm. When you grow your own, you can pick them as they ripen and enjoy them at their prime.

We also transplanted several wild strawberry plants that grow in our filed. We saved them before we plowed our pumpkin patch last year. Wild strawberries, while small, are jam packed with sweet strawberry flavor.

Growing Conditions

Growing strawberries is fairly simple. The easiest method is to purchase starts from a local nursery. They should be planted at least 12 inches apart in full sun. They like well-drained soil rich in organic matter. The soil should be kept evenly moist, especially during fruiting season. Removing runners before the plants set fruit will increase your crop.

A mulch, like straw (hence the name) should be placed under and between the plants to lift ripening fruit off the ground. This will prevent premature rotting.

Strawberries can also be grown in containers, hanging baskets and vertical gardens to save space.

We grow ours in raised beds, which makes propagating shoots very easy. Raised beds also make it easy to cover our fruit with netting to protect against birds stealing the berries.

Propagating Shoots

The best way to increase your strawberry plant numbers is through propagation. Strawberries send off shoots which will produce a leaf node several inches away. When this area of the plant settles in dirt, it will send down roots and begin a new plant.

These new leaves can be “captured” in pots and transplanted wherever you like. We tend to propagate those plants that are trying to escape our raised bed.

In late spring, fill a small pot with potting soil. Place it near a shoot and pin the shoot into the soil with a piece of U-shaped wire. Allow the shoot to send roots down into the pot. In late summer, snip the shoot to the parent plant and transplant the new plant or give it to a friend.

Growing from Seed

Strawberries plants can be easy to find at your local nursery, but you usually only get two choices of variety; ever bearing and early bearing. To grow more rare varieties you can try starting some from seed.

Strawberry seeds can take a long time to germinate, sometimes up to a month, and are slow to grow at the start! You have to exercise patience. You also won’t get much (if any) fruits the first year.

Sow seeds indoors in fine soil. The soil must be kept warm and young sprouts do well in direct light, so a greenhouse or grow light system works best. Feed every two weeks until plants are about three inches tall. Transplant outside.

There are so many delicious ways to use strawberries! I love them mashed in lemonades or sweet tea, blended with homemade ice cream, or right out of the garden. I hope you set aside some room in your garden for a bed of summer’s favorite fruit.

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