The snow is upon us, which has prompted me to write this article. Many gardeners are worried that their Strawberries will die in the snow – Rest assured they WILL survive. They love the cold and snow conditions..
Fresh Strawberries from the plot are a great seasonal treat. You can have them as the traditional “Strawberries and Cream” and many many more ways.. Trifles, puddings, pies etc. etc. They are great for making jams as well. I use them and mix in with various other fruits to make jams and jellies. See my “Strawpple Jam” here. Literally hundreds of combinations can be done with Strawberries. You can successfully grow Strawberries in containers as well.. See information here.
The two types of Strawberries that I know of are the normal fruiting type and the smaller Alpine types. These two types have many varieties within themselves… early, mid season, late season, everbearing etc. Alpines are normally grown in pots and flower boarders in the garden or hanging baskets – I believe they arer really sweet and good for jams..
Strawberries can be grown from seed successfully but I’m going to write mainly about growing from runners. (The seed packets will have growing instructions and once the plants are growing you can cultivate your own runners. However some seed varieties don’t send out runners..)
Strawberry plants should be renewed every 3-4 years or so. In year one they will bear a small amount of fruit and it is advisable to strip off at least half the flowers to give the plant time to establish it’self. Year two you will get a load more fruits and in the third and fourth years the best crop. They will continue to produce but diminish each year. So you need to grow them for 3-4 years and then change them..
So where do we start? Which comes first “The chicken or the egg” scenario!!
I’ll assume you have some straggly looking plants in the garden or plot… or you have been given some by a friend and planted them out like what happened to me a few years ago. Either way in the Summer they will send out runners with small growing points, which if left to grow on grow on, will mature into the new plants that you will harvest.
So lets assume they are old plants and you are to collect the runners for the next season.
In the Summer you need to harvest the new plants either by letting the runners touch the ground where they will very quickly send out roots and take hold, or by pegging the runners into small pots or tubs with strips of “U” shaped wires to hold them down as in the pic above. You need to use the latter when you plant through weed suppressant fabric or if you have them growing in pots.
On my roof top garden that I used before I had an allotment I had about twenty plants that I had been given. From those I harvested over 250 new plants a few months later in the first year. I kept some for myself and gave the rest away. I had them in growing in a few 3′ long tubs. I added more tubs and loads of small pots all filled with soil and compost, placed in-between and all around the existing growing strawberry tubs. As you can see in the pics below they sent out runners all over the place. I was naughty and harvested far too many – as many as the plants sent out.. You should only harvest a maximum of 4 per plant so you don’t stress the mother plant. The pics below just show a portion of them.
Once the runners have taken hold and have 4 leaves you can snip the runner off the mother plant, leave it for a couple of weeks to make sure it will survive, (they normally do!) then plant it out. If you have the strawberries growing in the ground you simple let the runners take hold in the soil and then dig them up with a clod of soil and plant out. Runners can be harvested up until mid September – thereafter they probably wont have time to establish before the winter.
I plant through weed suppressant fabric to save on weeding and I found it seems to keep the slugs at bay. I do get a few from underneath but generally quite clear. I also sprinkle a few slug pellets on the fabric just in case but they seem to not like slithering on the fabric. If you don’t use fabric you will need to add a layer of straw underneath the leaves and fruit to keep the fruit off the ground and away from the muddy moisture which may affect the fruit and make it moldy. When using the fabric I lay it out, then mark off my spacings with strings then cut a slit or an X where the plant will go. Then dig a small hole with a trowel, plant the new runner and cover with soil. There are various spacings used from 12″ (30cm) to 24″ (60cm). The spacings I use are about 15″ (38cm) each way. You can use a wider spacing and then when the runners grow you can leave them in situ so you don’t have to plant out. But you will need to dig up and plant them out when you change the bed.
When planting you must plant them the same depth that they were growing at. The crown must not be buried or left sticking out the ground. If the bed is not ready to plant out you can leave the runners in the ground or in their little pots outside over winter and plant out in the Spring. I left mine on the roof in the pots and tubs for the whole winter and all survived no problem.
Before you plant out you need to prepare the bed thoroughly as the plants will be there for at least three years. The pH of your soil is important. In order to grow strawberries most effectively, the soil needs to be slightly acidic. Strawberry plants will grow in soil that has a pH between 5.0 and 7.0, but 5.8 to 6.2 is ideal. Dig to remove perennial weeds and add some general fertilizer, compost and well rotted manure. I must mention here that dry rooted plants and normal potted plants are available from all sorts of online stores and garden centres. So whether you are planting your own runners or bought plants they all get planted the same way. The difference is that dry rooted plantlets must be soaked in water for half an hour before planting out.
They need a constant supply of moisture so in dry periods get the hose out and give them a feed every few days. They don’t like standing in water so don’t over do it. Mulching will help retain water as well. I understand that the best mulch is fir tree leaves to create a bit of acidity. Barley straw is really a good bet as it does not break down quickly like hay or wheat straw.
It is advisable to feed at different times in the life of a strawberry bed.
Firstly a general balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer should be added just before planting – ie. when preparing is a good time to add it.
During the first year another round of general fertilizer can be applied six weeks after planting out and another application again in August.
In subsequent years you need to feed with a bit general fertilizer every six weeks or so from June through September.
Do not over fertilize as too much will lead to leafy growth and will get a poor crop so it is better to fertilize too little than too much. A small hand-full per couple of square yards is adequate. I just throw it on like feeding seed to the pigeons in the city square!!
Birds and slugs and other critters love strawberries too so slug pellets and bird netting is essential to protect your crop
You will however need to taste them (occasionally) to make sure they are ready!! The fruit should be completely ripened on the plant before harvesting and should be left on the plant for one or two days after the strawberries have gained full color before picking. Remember Strawberries will NOT ripen after being picked like tomatoes and other fruit. They are fragile and easily damaged and bruised. Gently pick and place in a tub and make sure you pick it with the stem still attached. Strawberries should be dry when they are picked ass wet berries will go moldy quickly. They freeze well to use in jams. Just pick, remove the hulls and freeze whole..
The pics below are harvesting runners in pots for a neighbour and a section of trimmed plants after fruiting.
Late summer each year after the fruit has finished and you have collected your runners you need to trim off all the old big tatty dark reddy brown leaves and any remaining runners, leaving only the few new leaves growing from the crown. In some cases you may be left with only two or so leaves. Don’t panic – they grow back very very fast. Trim them off with secateurs or hedge clippers being careful not to cut the head off the crown. They will grow back very quickly and be ready for the harsh winter. You may get more runners growing so a second cutting of them may be required.
The following Spring they will jump up from dormancy and grow you a lovely crop of fruit.
Pics of some of my pickings, a bed of plants mulched with straw and some of my cropping plants.
ps. My bed is 11 rows x 11 plants per row and I now have another 7 row patch of different varieties to try and get varied cropping times. Mmmmm we love Strawberries.