How to grow strawberries

  • 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.

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.

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.

Growing strawberries in pots

The best containers for strawberries
The best containers for strawberries

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.

Strawberry plant care

Strawberry 'Royal Sovereign'
How to grow strawberries – straw around the fruits

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:

How to protect strawberry crops

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.

Harvesting strawberries

How to grow strawberries – picking strawberries

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

Step 1
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.

Step 2
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.

Step 3
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.

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