Strawberries are one of our favourite summer fruits, their sweet red berries are irresistible to almost everyone. Very quick to produce their fruits, strawberry plants are an excellent crop for the amateur gardener.
To grow strawberries successfully you're going to need to follow a few simple steps.
When planting them outside for the first time make sure the risk of frost has passed, alternatively find some space in a greenhouse or poly tunnel making sure the temperature doesn't drop below -2°C. Strawberries grow very well in raised beds. The soil retains the moisture that they so love but at the same time there is no water logging. Strawberries in particular start to rot in waterlogged conditions. Strawberry grow bags are also a great way to grow your strawberries.
Strawberries love to be planted in a sunny position, they also prefer to be planted out of the wind.
Strawberries do not produce deep roots, but they very much appreciate their soil being well-dug to a spades depth. Prepare the soil at least one month before planting. Incorporate as much organic matter as possible and include two handfuls of bonemeal per square metre (yard). A few days before planting apply the recommended dose of general fertiliser such as Growmore. Strawberries are greedy feeders over a relatively short period of time.
Strawberries need lots of water until they are well established but don't water-log them. When established (around May), they should be OK without additional water. But when the fruits start to swell, begin to water again. Summer fruiting strawberries planted in spring and perpetual strawberries should have their first blooms pinched off to enable a good root system to establish.
If you want to feed the plants in the spring, we recommend you use Tomorite tomato feed which is high in potassium. This will encourage a heavier crop and better flavour. Feeding with a nitrogen rich feed will only encourage leaf growth at the expense of fruit growth. The best time to feed the plants is when you see the fruits forming in late spring.
In May, the plant will produce runners which have 'nodes' along them - these nodes are the beginning of new strawberry plants. The runners should be removed because they will sap the strength from the plant resulting in less fruit.
As the fruit develops, their weight will cause them to lay on the ground. If this looks like happening, cover the soil around the plants with either straw or black plastic. Small holes should be made in the plastic to allow drainage and stop water gathering on it. The plastic or straw will prevent the fruits from lying directly on the soil which will rot them.
Place netting over the plants to prevent birds eating fruits.
It's important to pick any fruit as soon as it's ripe to prevent it rotting on the plant. Check the plants every other day during the ripening period. The fruit is ready when it has turned red, although different varieties have different shades. It's best to harvest the fruit in dry weather. Pick gently to avoid bruising and make sure the green stalk (calyx) remains with the fruit.
After harvesting, remove the straw or matting that has been protecting fruit from the ground. Compost straw and debris, or clean and store matting for next year. Cut off old leaves with hand shears and remove, leaving the crown and new leaves untouched. This allows sunlight into the centre of the plant, ensuring a better crop next year. Feed and water well. Leave nets off to allow birds to pick off any pests.