Strawberries

Julie Willis' hints on growing strawberries

I often get asked what should I be growing in my vegetable garden? And my usual response is strawberries.

Why you might ask? The simple cold hard truth is so you can enjoy them without the risk of chemical contamination. Supermarket shelved blemish free strawberry fruit comes at a price to our health. According to the Environmental Working Group, strawberries are ranked third out of 50 popular fruits and vegetables that retain pesticide residues.

The good news is that strawberries in the home garden are relatively simple and easy to grow. Their size and habit allows them to be grown in nearly any position, in pots and hanging baskets on balconies, or in the ground amongst other vegetables.

Planting strawberries

Purchase plants as 'runners' in winter or as potted plants in spring. Plant strawberries in a good quality potting mix if growing in pots, or in a compost rich garden soil if growing in the ground. Feed with organic preparations of seaweed solution and or fish emulsion to help with establishment and fruiting.

If planting into the ground, ensure plants have good drainage by mounding soil or by planting into raised beds. Each plant needs an area of around 30cm to grow and fruit well. Ensure plants are positioned in a sheltered warm location that receives full sun. Keep plants well watered throughout their active growing period. Protect young plants from frost.

Planting strawberries too shallow (L), too deep (C) and just right (R)

Handling runners

With some careful attention, the runners in your strawberry bundle will establish well and you'll be eating sweet and succulent strawberries in the summer.

It should be noted that the successful establishment of strawberry runners is dependent on following some basic principles of plant management. The general guidelines are as follows:

♦ When the runners arrive, they will be securely wrapped in plastic. Remove the packaging and rinse the roots in water to refresh them. There may be some dead leaves on the runners, remove these with some scissors or secateurs, new leaves will be produced from the crowns in spring.

♦ Plant runners the same day that you prepare them.

♦ Plant into moist soil, at the right depth as shown below.

♦ Do not allow the roots to double back when planting. If roots are too long, trim to 10cm.

♦ Firm the soil around each runner after planting and mulch well.

♦ Water the plants immediately after planting. Keep the soil moist (but not too wet in the cooler months) then increase watering as the days warm up in the spring.

♦ Protect young plants from frost until established.

Strawberry plants (L) and bundles of runners (R)

Old fashioned strawberries including heritage varieties like Chandler produce fruit from late spring to summer but there are also some newer varieties that are called ‘day neutral’ plants that will fruit from spring well into autumn. It is best to plant a combination of both (see the chart below for some harvest times).

Plants will want to grow side shoots called runners. It is best to remove these runners so that the energy of the plants goes into continual fruit production.

Plants will usually fruit best in their second year of establishment and will need replanting with new runners after their 2nd to 3rd year. Be sure to keep up production by replanting successively.

Protect fruit from slugs and snails by using beer traps or copper wire tape.

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Julie Willis

Julie is our Horticultural Advisor, bringing her UK qualifications, Australian experience and knowledge of plants for all climates and situations to Diggers, where she presents workshops, develops fact sheets and gives gardening advice to members.
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