How to grow strawberries
All you need to know about growing strawberries, with advice on planting, maintenance and harvesting.
Jobs to do each month:
- April: plant new plants from bare-root runners
- April to June: plant pot-grown plants
- June to July: net plants and place straw or mats around the plants. Harvest the fruits
- July to August: once fruiting has finished, remove netting and clear straw or mats away. Start propagating from runners
- September: plant fresh plants from home-grown runners or plant bare-root, mail order runners
Summer simply wouldn't be summer without strawberries. You can buy them all year round in supermarkets but, even in season, they’re expensive and rarely taste as good as home-grown fruit. Strawberries grow very well in pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, growing bags and strawberry planters as well as in the ground, which means they can be grown in small gardens, on balconies and even on a windowsill. They're a fun crop to grow with children.
You can buy strawberries as pot-grown plants at the garden centre in summer, or as mail-order runners in spring or autumn. Different varieties of strawberry crop at different times – there are early, mid- and late-season varieties available. If you choose a mix of varieties, you can harvest them over a longer season.
Alternatively, everbearing, remontant or perpetual varieties crop on and off throughout the summer, and produce smaller fruits. They are a good choice for a smaller garden as they have a long cropping season and don't take up too much space. Alpine strawberries are compact plants that produce tiny berries. They are a good choice for a semi-shaded spot or the front of a border and grow extremely well in pots.
Strawberry plants generally fruit well for around three or four years before they begin to run out of steam. They're easy to propagate from runners, though, so you'll always have a fresh stock of new plants.
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How to grow strawberries
Grow strawberries in a well-prepared strawberry bed, pot, growing bag or strawberry planter, in a sheltered spot that gets plenty of sun, for sweet, juicy fruits. Add plenty of well-rotted horse manure or garden compost to the soil before planting. Water plants well, especially in hot weather, and feed regularly with a high potash feed from early spring onwards. Harvest when the fruits are red all over. Replace plants every three or four years by planting fresh plants or propagating new plants from runners.
More on growing strawberries:
- How to get an early crop of strawberries
- The best strawberries to grow
- How to make a strawberry bed
- How to plant a strawberry hanging basket
Growing strawberries: jump links
- Planting strawberries
- Caring for strawberries
- Harvesting strawberries
- Propagating strawberries
- Growing strawberries: problem-solving
- Buying strawberries
- Strawberries to grow
- Strawberry recipes
How to plant strawberries in the ground
You can buy strawberry plants at the garden centre in late spring and summer. Prepare the soil well first by digging in plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure. Then scatter a high-potash general fertiliser over the soil. Plant the strawberry plants 30-45cm apart, in rows 75cm apart, so their roots are just buried, and firm the soil around them. Water in well and keep well watered for the first few weeks as they establish.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to planting up a new strawberry bed:
Growing strawberries in pots
Strawberries grow extremely well in pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. Choose a deep pot that's at least 15cm wide and plant one strawberry per pot. They thrive in moist but well-drained conditions, so use a soil-based compost with a deep layer of gravel or broken crocks in the base. Encourage flowers and fruit set by feeding with a liquid high potash feed (such as tomato food) every week or two from early spring onwards.
You can also grow strawberries in growing bags. A growing bag will support six to eight strawberry plants, especially if you lay one bag over another, with holes cut around the bag, to allow roots to penetrate to the full depth.
Growing strawberries from bare-root runners
Mail-order runners are the cheaper, more traditional way to buy strawberry plants and a good option if you are starting a new strawberry patch. They are available in spring and autumn and are sold in bundles of 10-15 plants, with long roots and a tiny tuft of leaves on top. Prepare the soil well beforehand and plant the strawberries so their roots are just buried, about 30-45cm apart, then firm the soil around them. Water well for the first few weeks.
Strawberries need a cold spell to initiate flowers and fruit – ideally a fortnight below 7°C. So if you can, order and plant your runners in autumn. If you miss your chance, buy artificially chilled ‘cold-stored’ runners, available from mid-spring, which will fruit about 60 days after planting.
Strawberry plant care
Water your strawberry plants regularly, especially when new plants are establishing or in hot weather. Avoid wetting the centre of the plant or wetting any ripening fruits, to prevent grey mould.
In early spring, scatter a general-purpose fertiliser around your plants in the ground, following the instructions on the pack. From early spring onwards, encourage flowering and fruit set by feeding your strawberry plants with a high-potash feed (such as tomato feed) every week or two (follow the pack instructions).
Tuck some straw around the plants just before the fruits start to develop, or put a strawberry mat around each plant. This helps to keep the berries clean and deters slugs and snails. It also helps to keep weeds down.
Netting can be used to deter birds and small mammals from eating the fruits. This needs to be fixed carefully as birds, hedgehogs, slow worms and other animals can become trapped in the netting, and die. Ideally, you should use a fixed net cage with holes large enough for pollinators to access the strawberry flowers, which cannot stretch and become entangled. However, by paying careful attention to loose netting you can ensure no animals can become trapped.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to protecting strawberry crops with straw and netting:
To encourage strong growth for next year’s crop, after fruiting finishes, cut off foliage to about 5cm above ground level and give plants a good feed with a general-purpose fertiliser (again, follow the instructions on the pack). Take away all of the old straw around the plants to avoid a build-up of pests and diseases. Remove any netting so that birds can eat any pests in the ground.
After three to four years, fruit size and quality declines so you will need to replace your plants with new stock. The easiest way to do this is to propagate your own plants, from the runners that they produce.
Wait until the berries are fully red all over before harvesting, as they do not continue to ripen once picked. Simply pinch through the stalks with your finger and thumb to avoid bruising the fruit. As strawberries are perishable, it's best to eat them straight from the plant, ideally still warm from the sun. You can store unwashed fruit for a few days in the fridge.
Propagating strawberry plants from runners
Choose a healthy runner which has produced one or more leaves, and remove any stems emerging from the new leaves, while keeping it still attached to the parent plant. Fill pots with multi-purpose compost. Place the strawberry runner on the surface and hold it in place using a u-shaped staple or a piece of wire.
Don’t snip off the stem linking the new plant to its parent – keep this until the new plant has developed strong roots. Keep the compost moist at all times.
As soon as the plants are strongly rooted, snip off the stem connecting it to the parent plant, and plant in into a larger pot, or out into prepared ground.
Growing strawberries: problem solving
Slugs and snails
Strawberries are prone to attack from slugs and snails. Putting straw around the fruit can keep them at bay, or you can try other organic pest control methods.
Birds, especially blackbirds, love strawberries. Cover fruits with secure netting to prevent them getting at the fruits.
Grey mould can be a problem on strawberries, especially in wet weather. Just as your fruits are beginning to ripen, the mould (a fungus called botrytis) can ruin them. Small brown spots form on the skin, then spread over the whole fruit, turning it soft and brown. As the fruit deteriorates, a fuzzy grey layer of mould develops. Water plants in the morning rather than in the evening to give them time to dry out and take care not to splash water onto the fruit when watering. Also keep the soil around your plants clear (the fungus survives on plant debris) and remove any damaged fruits to prevent the problem spreading.
If the leaf surfaces have a white, powdery look in summer, this is powdery mildew. It can be a problem in hot, dry weather. Keep the soil moist and remove any affected leaves promptly. Space out your plants to avoid over-crowding and to improve air flow. Remove weeds, as they can spread the fungus.
Strawberries are hardy plants, but a late frost in May can damage growth. If possible, put a layer of fleece over your plants if frost is forecast, or move pots under cover.
Vine weevil can be a particular problem for strawberries growing in pots. The adults create notches in the leaves but the most serious damage is caused by the larvae which live in the compost and eat the roots, weakening growth and often ultimately killing the plants. The first time you notice a problem may be when the plants wilt, collapse and die.
Adult vine weevils can be caught by hand and squashed. The best solution is to buy a biological control to kill the larvae. This is best applied in late summer and autumn.
Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that can affect strawberries. It causes sudden wilting, stunted growth and reddish yellow leaf margins. Prevention is better than cure – avoid growing strawberries on ground where you have previously grown other plants that are also prone to the disease, including chrysanthemums, potatoes, aubergines and tomatoes, and ensure that your soil is well drained. If you spot signs of the disease avoid treading on the soil, which may transfer it to other plants via your footwear – stand on a board or plank. There are no chemical controls available, so it's best to dig up affected plants. Varieties that are more resistant to verticillium wilt are available; plant them in a different part of the garden.
Advice for buying strawberry plants
- Choose a variety of strawberries that fruit at different times, so you can harvest them over a longer season. There are early, mid- and late-season varieties to choose from. You can often find ready-selected collections available online or by mail order
- For smaller gardens, 'everbearing' or 'perpetual' strawberries can provide a long strawberry season without taking up the space that several varieties would
- You can buy ready-grown plants at the garden centre in spring and early summer, but for the best selection, buy from a specialist fruit nursery or order bare-root runners online in spring or autumn
- Alpine varieties are often sold alongside herb plants at the garden centre; you can also grow them from seed
- Check all plants for signs of pests and disease before planting
Where to buy strawberry plants online
Great strawberries to grow
- ‘Elvira’ – heavy crops and good disease resistance. An early variety
- ‘Elsanta’ – heavy cropper with large, tasty, red fruits. A mid-season variety
- ‘Hapil’ – large glossy fruits, even in dry conditions. A mid-season variety
- ‘Honeoye’ – prolific fruiter with large, firm berries. A mid-season variety
- ‘Pegasus’ – sweet, juicy, top-quality berries. A mid-season variety
- ‘Symphony’ – good yields. A late-season variety
- ‘Aromel’ – abundant dark red, juicy berries
- ‘Christine’ – sweet fruits that ripen in late May
- ‘Mara des Bois’ – large, deliciously aromatic fruits
Strawberries can be eaten in a number of ways: alone, with cream, and as ingredients in a smoothies, cakes and other desserts. Damp strawberries will quickly go mouldy, so only wash what you can eat and blot them dry on kitchen paper. Hull (remove the green calyx) them before using them – just slice it off with a knife. If you’re lucky enough to have a glut, whizz them into delicious smoothies or use to make jam. Some varieties are suitable for freezing.
You can also see some of our tried-and-tested gardening tools below, with a selection of great kit for planting and support.
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