Growing your own strawberries is easy and enjoyable when you know how. One of the advantages of homegrown strawberries is that you know they have not been exposed to pesticides or other chemicals. Your efforts will be greatly rewarded when your strawberries continue to bear fruit year after year. These versatile plants can be successfully grown in the ground, in pots, or even in hanging baskets, making them the ideal gardening project. What better way to add a touch of luxury to a glass of champagne at a family celebration than with a fresh strawberry picked from your own garden?
Growing your strawberry plant from seed is very rewarding, but it does take some TLC. Starting from seeds means you can choose which variety or combination of varieties of strawberry to grow. If you're planting your seeds before late spring, you'll need to keep them indoors to protect them from frosts during the delicate early stages of growth.
Cold-treat your seeds by putting them in the freezer for two to four weeks before planting. This triggers their germination response to the warmer surroundings once removed from the freezer and returned to room temperature. To plant, simply press your seeds into a moist soil and peat mixture laid out in the bottom of a seed planter. Do not fully bury them. If placed in direct sunlight in a bright room, they will take two to three weeks to germinate.
You may decide to bypass the seed stage and purchase your strawberry plant as a germinated seedling. This gives you a head start in growing your plant. Once you have your seedlings, keep them in a shaded place until you're ready to plant them. These young shoots have to be treated very carefully to keep them intact, so they grow well. When your seedling has developed several small leaves, it's time to harden it to prepare it for life outdoors. This process involves placing the plant outside for an increasing amount of time every day for two weeks, so it is able to withstand life outdoors.
Strawberry plants grow best in moist soil with adequate drainage. Although they need plenty of watering, especially in the early stages, they will suffer if left to sit in water. If you're growing your strawberry plant in a pot, lay broken crockery, small rocks, or gravel in the base to keep the roots above water.
Good quality soil, mixed with organic compost or fertilizer, provides a rich base for healthy growth. Spreading a layer of mulch around your seedling can help prevent weeds.
Water your strawberry plants frequently to help them survive and thrive. During the fruit-bearing season, your plants need up to 1-2 inches of water a week. Your aim is to prevent the soil from becoming either too wet or too dry. Over-watered soil can cause the roots of a strawberry plant to rot. Watering in the morning means the plant has time to dry out through the day, so it is not sitting in water for long. Avoid getting the fruit itself wet, as this can cause mold to grow. Ideally, water the base of the established plant using an irrigation system if possible, rather than from above.
The ideal outdoor position for a strawberry plant is in a sunny but sheltered spot. Although strawberries prefer direct sunlight, they can tolerate some shade, as long as they get a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. In these conditions, it's best to plant your strawberry bush in spring, so it has a run of warmer months in which to absorb sunlight. A strawberry plant will not thrive in an entirely shaded spot. When kept indoors, the plant must ideally be kept in direct sunlight.
Strawberry plants have a shallow root system so they can survive in almost any depth of soil, making them a versatile plant choice. You may choose to keep them in pots or baskets if you don't want to plant them in the ground. This is good news for those living in apartments or homes without yards, as strawberry plants can be grown in a pot on a balcony or indoors. As long as your plant is watered correctly and has direct sunlight, it can thrive.
A juicy strawberry is very appealing to creatures and critters. This means that there are many varieties of pest that will try to eat your strawberries as they grow. Slugs, spittlebugs, and weevils may all attack your strawberry crop. Birds might also take a liking to the fruit. Guard against them by placing bird netting over your plants.
Strawberry plants are also at risk of disease, often presenting as small patches of mold on the fruit or leaves. Maintaining optimum conditions can help keep disease at bay, so look after your plants carefully, ensuring the correct amounts of both sunlight and water.
When you purchase your seeds or seedlings, they may come with a plant tag that will indicate how long your strawberries will take to ripen. This will give you some idea of when to expect to be able to pick your fruit. As a general rule, strawberries are ready to be picked when they are entirely red and ripe. To avoid damaging the delicate strawberry, cut the top of the stem rather than pulling the fruit away.
Strawberry plants are split into three main types. Everbearing plants bear fruit throughout the warm months, with main harvests in early summer and early fall. June-bearing plants tend to have their main harvest in early summer - usually June. Day-neutral strawberry plants are sensitive to the temperature of their surroundings more than the length of the days. This makes them ideal for shadier spots and allows them to flower from early spring to the end of fall.
Strawberries last longer when they remain attached to the stem, so snip the ripe fruit at the top of the stem, rather than picking it. Refrigerate your strawberries, storing them in a single layer. Cover them, but be sure to leave open holes for ventilation. Don't soak strawberries as this can make them soggy. Instead, wash them when you are about to eat them. When chilled, strawberries will stay perfectly ripe for 2-3 days. They can also be frozen and will retain their flavor for up to six months.