June’s plant of the month is something delicious and quite prolific right now if you live in warmer climates and even in England; I’m talking about strawberries!
Strawberries are one of those fruits which are incredibly easy to grow and grow well in containers; we’re growing them in hanging baskets in the front of our house currently.
Strawberries are of the Rosaceae family which includes edible fruits such as apples and pears, raspberries and even almonds. The family also includes ornamental shrubs or trees including rowan (mountain ash), roses, alchemilla (Lady’s Mantle) and hawthorn (May tree).
There are many different varieties of strawberries which are available to grow and each with a slightly different flavor.
The easiest way to grow strawberries is to purchase plants from a nursery and plant them up. Established plants will form runners which are rooting nodes on long stems that form during and after cropping. These can be pegged to the ground or soil in a container to root then the stem to the main plant cut and the new strawberry lifted and transplanted propagate new plants. Strawberries spread easily and quickly once established due to the runners forming and rooting where ever they please if left unchecked and do not form as many fruits.
Strawberries grow well in clay soils and love compost or manure being applied in winter or after they have finished cropping. Strawberries will tolerate light shade and full sun.
The usual spacing for planting in the ground is 18 in x 18 in (45 cm), strawberries should not have their crown below the soil level so only plant shallow holes. If planting in August, a good harvest is likely in the following year. If you plant later in the year (after picking up plants at the nursery for an end of season discount), then you are likely to get a smaller crop the following year. Frosts tend to kill off the flowers on strawberry plants so either cover them with frost protection fleece if you want an early crop. If you don’t have any frost fleece, then the plant will form more flowers later when the weather forms up.
Planting is usually done through a mulch (straw was the traditional mulching medium) which keeps the fruit clean and keeps the soil moist. If planting in the ground, be sure to cut off any runners which form. Once fruiting has finished, cut the foliage back to just above the crown to keep pests such as slugs in check and to reduce the runners. An established strawberry patch should have the plants removed after five years and placed in a new patch.
The typical cropping and harvest period of strawberries is about three weeks and birds will often try to take the strawberries before you do, cover the crop with netting to reduce birds getting your bounty. Other common problems with growing strawberries include powdery mildew, aphids, botrytis or grey mold and rot.
Growing in containers opens many possibilities to the innovative gardener; I’ve seen strawberries grown in traditional terracotta strawberry planters, barrels, wellington boots and even upturned large soda pop bottles which are hung upside down with the strawberry plant growing through the mouth of the bottle. Growing in hanging baskets keeps the fruits off the ground, prevents runners from spreading and allows the fruits to hang temptingly down the side. The containers will need new compost and plants after two years to keep them healthy and productive. They benefit from a good feed but don’t over do the nitrogen which leafs to soft plants which are open for disease.