Beginner’s guide on how to grow strawberries in your garden

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There’s something magical about growing your own strawberries. These sweet, juicy fruits delight the senses, let’s just be honest, homegrown strawberries are so much tastier than the strawberries you can buy in grocery stores! Did you know they’re surprisingly easy to grow in your garden? 

Whether you have a spacious backyard or a small patio, you can enjoy fresh, juicy berries throughout the entire growing season. Strawberry plants are perennial plants which means they will produce strawberries year after year. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started on a delicious summer filled with sweet, juicy, homegrown strawberries.

ripe and unripe strawberries hanging

Choosing the right strawberry variety

The first step in growing strawberries is choosing the right variety for your garden. There are three main strawberry varieties, and these varieties all have a different production pattern so it is worth a while to look into these before you buy your first plants.

  • June-bearing strawberries
    • Produce one large crop per year, usually in late spring to early summer, around June.
    • Ideal if you want a big harvest for making jams or desserts.
    • Most productive in the second and third years.
  • Everbearing Varieties
    • Produce two to three smaller harvests per year, typically in spring, summer, and fall.
    • They have a slightly shorter productive lifespan compared to June-bearing varieties but will produce a steady supply of strawberries.
  • Day-neutral strawberries
    • Produce fruit continuously from late spring until late fall when the frost arrives.
    • They are perfect if you want fresh strawberries over a longer period.
    • These varieties can be productive for about 2-3 years but may need more frequent replacement due to continuous fruiting.
  • Wild strawberries (Woodland or Alpine strawberries)
    • These strawberry plants, and their strawberries, are smaller than the above-mentioned varieties. They will grow 4 – 8 inches (10-20 cm) tall.
    • Easy to maintain. We have a patch in the garden from the previous owners. We never did anything like mulching, fertilizing, or pruning. Despite our lack of care for these plants, we have a lot of wild, small-fruit size, strawberries, and a lot of runners.
A patch of wild strawberries
Despite the lack of care for this plant, we have wild strawberries every summer

For beginners, day-neutral and everbearing varieties are often recommended due to their extended harvest period.

Preparing the soil

Strawberries prefer well-drained, sandy loam, acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Follow the following steps to prepare your garden bed:

  • Test your soil: First of all, know which soil of your strawberry beds you are working with. You can buy a soil test from a garden center to check the soil pH and nutrient levels.
  • Amend the soil: If necessary, amend your soil with compost or well-rotted manure to improve fertility and drainage.
  • Form raised beds: If your soil is heavy clay, consider planting in raised beds to ensure good drainage.

Planting your strawberries

There are three ways to plant strawberries. One, you plant a strawberry plant or seedling, two, you start some seeds and grow your own strawberry plants, three, you use runners to plant new strawberry plants (see below for all the information you’ll need about runners). 

1. Planting a strawberry plant or seedling

  • Plant strawberries in early spring, as soon as the soil is workable and you’re past the last frost date in your area.
  • Space the plants about 18 inches apart in rows that are 3 to 4 feet apart. Plant seedlings 12-18 inches (30 – 45 cm) apart in rows 2-3 feet (60 – 90 cm) apart.
  • Make sure the crown (the point where the stem meets the roots) is at the soil level. Planting too deep can cause the crown to rot while planting too shallow can dry out the roots.

2. Starting strawberry seeds

Growing strawberries from seed is a somewhat lengthy process. You want to transplant your seedlings after the last frost date in your area. It takes about 12-14 weeks after starting seeds until you can transplant a seedling to your garden. Take the last frost date in your area and calculate 12-14 weeks back to know when you should start your seeds.

1. Select strawberry seeds

  • Choose seeds from a reputable supplier to ensure good quality and variety suited to your climate.
  • Alpine and wild strawberry varieties are often easier to grow from seed than garden varieties.
  • You can also take a strawberry, peel the outer layer, and dry it in the sun on a kitchen towel to harvest its seeds. One strawberry contains, on average, 200 seeds.
a strawberry with seeds and green foliage
On average, one strawberry contains 200 seeds, you can spot them easily on the outside of the fruit

2. Stratify the seeds

Strawberry seeds need a period of cold treatment (stratification) to improve germination rates. This will clone the effect of winter on ‘wild strawberry seeds’.

  • How to stratify seeds in the refrigerator:
    • Place the seeds in a moist paper towel or directly in a seed tray with moist soil.
    • Put the paper towel in a plastic bag.
    • Refrigerate for 2-4 weeks.
    • Leave the seeds until they are at room temperature.
  • How to stratify seeds in the freezer:
    • ​Place the seeds in a plastic bag.
    • Put the bag in the freezer.
    • Freeze for 2-4 weeks.
    • Leave the seeds until they are at room temperature.

3. Prepare the soil

  • Use a seed-starting soil mix that is light and well-draining.
  • Fill seed trays or small pots with the mix. Make sure the mix is moist.

4. Sow the seeds

  • Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Do not cover them with soil as they need light to germinate.
  • Lightly press the seeds into the soil to ensure good contact.

5. Provide the right conditions

  • Place the seed trays under grow lights or in a sunny window where they can receive 12-16 hours of light per day.
  • Keep the soil temperature around 60-70°F (15-21°C) for optimal germination.

6. Maintain moisture

  • Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, if you only mist water on the surface your plants should be fine.
  • Use a spray bottle to mist the soil surface regularly.

7. Germination

  • Seeds can take 2-4 weeks to germinate. Be patient and continue to provide the right conditions.

8. Transplanting seedlings

  • Once seedlings have a few true leaves and are large enough to handle, when they are about 2 – 4 inches (5 – 10 cm) tall, they can be transplanted into larger pots or directly into the garden.
  • Harden off the seedlings by gradually introducing them to outdoor conditions over a week.

9. Planting outdoors

  • Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil enriched with organic matter.
  • Plant seedlings 12-18 inches (30 – 45 cm) apart in rows 2-3 feet (60 – 90 cm) apart.
  • Water well after planting.

Watering and mulching

Proper watering and mulching are crucial for healthy strawberry plants. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Strawberries need about 1 inch of water per week, increasing during dry spells.

Apply a layer of mulch (such as straw, wood chips, or pine needles) around your plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the fruit clean.

Strawberries, ripe and unripe, with straw as mulch
Make sure you use mulch like straw to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the strawberries clean

Pests and diseases that affect strawberry plants and how to combat them

Strawberries can be susceptible to pests and diseases, but there are ways to manage them. 

Common pests

1. Aphids

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of plants, causing leaves to curl and distort. They can also transmit viruses.

Signs your plant is suffering from aphids:

  • Sticky honeydew on leaves
  • Distorted or yellowing leaves
  • Presence of ants (which farm aphids for honeydew)

Control of aphids:

  • Natural predators: Introduce ladybugs or lacewings, which feed on aphids.
  • Insecticidal soap: Spray affected plants with insecticidal soap or a homemade solution of water and a few drops of dish soap. For more information about insecticidal soap see this article.

2. Slugs and snails

These slimy pests feed on the leaves and fruit of strawberry plants, creating holes and leaving behind a silvery trail.

Signs your plant is suffering from slugs and snail attacks:

  • Holes in leaves and fruit
  • Slime trails on plants and soil
Strawberries covered with slime of snails
A slimy trail on your strawberries is a clear sign you have a sticky snail problem

How to control slugs and snails:

  • Handpicking: Remove slugs and snails by hand, especially in the evening.
  • Beer traps: Place shallow containers filled with beer around your garden to attract and drown slugs.
  • Barriers: Use copper tape or crushed eggshells around your plants to deter these pests.

I’ve made an extensive blog post about how to handle snails and slugs in your garden, read all about it here!

3. Spider mites

Spider mites are tiny, spider-like pests that feed on the underside of leaves, sucking out plant juices and causing leaves to become speckled and discolored.

Signs your plant is suffering from spider mites:

  • Fine webbing on leaves
  • Yellow or bronze speckling on leaves
  • Leaf drop in severe infestations

How to control spider mites:

  • Water spray: Hose down plants to knock mites off leaves.

4. Birds

Birds love ripe strawberries and can decimate a crop in no time.

Signs your strawberry plant is suffering from hungry birds:

  • Missing or pecked-at berries

How to control bird feasts:

  • Netting: Cover your strawberry plants with bird netting to prevent birds from reaching the fruit.
  • Scare tactics: Use reflective tape, scarecrows, or garden owls to deter birds.

Common diseases on strawberry plants

Like every other plant in the garden strawberry plants are also susceptible to fungal diseases, and harmful bacteria.

1. Gray Mold (Botrytis cinerea)

Gray mold is a fungal disease that thrives in wet, humid conditions and affects the fruit, causing it to rot.

Signs of gray mold on your strawberry plants:

  • Brown, water-soaked spots on fruit
  • Gray, fuzzy mold on affected areas

How to control gray mold:

  • Good air circulation: Space plants properly and prune to improve airflow.
  • Sanitation: Remove and destroy infected fruit and plant debris.
  • Organic fungicides: Apply fungicides as a preventive measure during wet weather.

2. Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that affects the leaves of your plants, causing them to become covered in a white, powdery substance. This is a common disease in the garden, it can also infect other plants in your vegetable garden. If you spot a plant with the signs of powdery mildew be careful and act immediately to prevent the spreading of this disease through your whole kitchen garden.

Signs of powdery mildew:

  • White, powdery spots on leaves and stems
  • Distorted and stunted leaf growth

How to control powdery mildew:

  • Resistant varieties: Plant strawberry varieties resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Proper spacing: Ensure plants are spaced adequately to promote good airflow.

3. Verticillium wilt

Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that affects the vascular system of strawberry plants, causing wilting and yellowing of leaves.

Signs on your plants of verticillium wilt:

  • Wilting and yellowing of lower leaves
  • Stunted plant growth
  • Brown discoloration in the vascular tissue of stems

How to control verticillium wilt:

  • Crop rotation: Avoid planting strawberries in the same spot where susceptible crops (like tomatoes or potatoes) were grown previously.
  • Resistant varieties: Choose resistant varieties to reduce the risk of infection.

4. Leaf Spot

Leaf spot is caused by various fungi and bacteria, leading to spots on leaves that can coalesce and cause defoliation.

Signs of leaf spot on your strawberry plants:

  • Small, round, purple, or brown spots on leaves
  • Spots may have a white or tan center
  • Premature leaf drop in severe cases

How to control leaf spot:

  • Sanitation: Remove and destroy infected leaves to reduce the spread of the disease. Note: at the end of the season leave the browning leaves as they will protect against cold weather during the winter for your strawberry plant.
  • Organic fungicides: Apply fungicides if necessary to control the spread of the disease.

Pest management for your garden in general

For effective pest and disease control, consider using these general strategies:

  • Regularly inspect your plants for signs of pests and diseases.
  • Use proper planting techniques, such as crop rotation and spacing, to reduce the risk of pests and diseases.
  • Encourage natural predators and beneficial insects in your garden by planting companion plants around your strawberry patch.

By being proactive and employing a combination of these strategies, you can protect your strawberry plants from common pests and diseases, ensuring a healthy and bountiful harvest. Happy gardening!

Harvesting your strawberries

So, the most important question is, when can you expect to harvest your first strawberries? This depends on the strawberry variety, and weather in your area, if you have a lot of sunny, warm days your harvest will start earlier than when you have a colder summer with not so much sun. In general, you can say that about three to six weeks after the plants start to blossom you can harvest delicious strawberries.

unripe strawberries and strawberry flowers which are blooming
About three to six week after blossoming you can harvest strawberries

Be careful when harvesting strawberries. Gently grasp the berry and twist it off the stem, or use scissors to avoid damaging the plant. If you have a scissor at hand I would always recommend using a scissor because this won’t damage your plant. But I know from first-hand experience when strolling through your garden and spotting a ripe strawberry it is often too tempting to just grab it.

Strawberry runners

Strawberry runners are long stems that grow out from the main strawberry plant and can root themselves to form new plants. Handling these runners effectively can help you expand your strawberry patch or manage the plant’s growth.

A strawberry runner with its new roots, a hand and pot in the background

Here are a few options for what you can do with strawberry runners:

1. Allow the runner to root naturally

If you have enough space in your raised strawberry bed or enough empty pots at hand, allow the runners to root naturally. Strawberry runners are an easy, natural way to propagate more strawberry plants. When the runner touches the soil, it will form roots and become new plants. It doesn’t mean any hard work for you as a gardener to allow the strawberry runners to root, it will cause an increase in strawberry yield!

  • Let the runners grow and touch the ground.
  • Ensure the soil is moist where the runners will root.
  • Once the new plant has established roots (usually within a few weeks), you can cut the runner connecting it to the parent plant.

2. Potting the runners

To control the placement of new plants or share them with others, you can root the runners in pots.

  • Fill small pots with soil.
  • Position the pots under the runner nodes (the part that will root).
  • Use small rocks or pins to keep the runner node in contact with the soil in the pots.
  • Keep the soil moist until roots develop.
  • Once well-rooted, cut the runner from the parent plant and transplant the new plant as desired.
A strawberry runner in a pot

3. Pruning the runners

If you do not want more strawberry plants or need to manage the plant’s energy, you can prune the runners.

  • Use clean, sharp scissors or pruners.
  • Cut the runners as close to the base of the main plant as possible.
  • Regularly check for and remove new runners to maintain the health and productivity of the main plant.

4. Transplanting rooted runners

If the runners have already rooted in the soil and you want to relocate them, you can transplant them.

  • Carefully dig up the new plants, preserving as much of the root system as possible.
  • Prepare the new planting site or pots with appropriate soil.
  • Transplant the new plants and water them thoroughly.
  • Ensure they are well-watered and protected until they are established in their new location.

Tips for handling strawberry runners:

  • Timing: You will get the best results when propagating runners in late summer or early fall when temperatures are cooler but still warm enough for rooting.
  • Soil: Use well-draining, fertile soil to encourage healthy root development.
  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Fertilizing: Feed the parent plants with a balanced fertilizer to support healthy runner production. If you just want a few runners I don’t think this is necessary, I would only recommend a fertilizer to promote runner production.

By managing strawberry runners effectively, you can expand your strawberry patch, share plants with friends, or maintain the health and productivity of your strawberry plants. 

Do note: the new plants that grew from the original mother plants will not produce any strawberries until the next growing season in the second year. So, have a little patience because the strawberries will grow eventually!

Winter care and next season

At the end of the season, you will notice the leaves of the strawberry plants will change color. They will turn from a vibrant green to red/brown, don’t remove these leaves because they will protect the plants during the cold winter months. The parts of the plants that should be removed at the end of the season are the runners and flower stems. They will drain the now much-needed energy of the plant to survive winter.

In colder climates, strawberries need protection to survive the winter. You can protect the plants by applying a thick layer of straw mulch. Around March, in early spring, remove the mulch and cut away the old, dead leaves if they are still attached to the plant.

Final tips

  • Strawberry plants will produce fruit for about three years, after this period the plants will produce fewer and fewer fruits and will deteriorate. Be sure to plant some new plants every season, or let a few runners on the loose every year to ensure yourself of strawberries season after season.
  • Make strawberry jam or jelly from your fresh strawberries. This way you can enjoy the taste of fresh strawberries even in the winter.
  • Plant companion plants like garlic cloves around your strawberry plants to protect them from pests.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying delicious, home-grown strawberries. After you’ve tasted fresh, juicy strawberries from your garden I promise you, you won’t want to buy any from the grocery store again!

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