I adore strawberries (Fragaria sp.), and one of my earliest memories is a birthday cake absolutely heaving under the weight of a sack full of home grown strawbs! Needless to say, the cake didn’t last long, especially in a household full of strawberry snatchers! Nothing compares to the taste of homegrown strawberries, and those monster things you buy in punnets at the shops are generally a poor (and expensive) imitation. So, let’s grow strawberries – berry tasty, berry fun, and berry, berry easy!

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year
Temperate Areas: All Year
Cool to Cold Areas: All Year

Position, Position, Position!

Good position and good soil are the keys to successful strawberries. Contrary to the visions I have of chowing down on strawberries in a hot Queensland summer, strawbs are actually a European cool-climate plant, and need to be treated with a bit of love in much of Australia. For those of you lucky enough to live in the warm areas of Oz, I would suggest growing your strawbs under a little shade cloth cover. This is “slip, slop, slap” for your strawbs to stop the sunburn… they’ll thank you for it!

For the rest if us in cool climates, a nice, warm, full-sun to part-shade spot is perfect. I give mine morning sun, with protection from afternoon rays.

Strawbs need a spot with good air circulation, but this doesn’t means whacking them in a wind tunnel! Like many people, strawberries are shallow (rooted) and will dry out really quickly in the wind, especially in hanging baskets (which is, incidentally, my preferred growing method for strawberries). Strawbs do well in pots, and this allows them to be fairly easily relocated should the wind get up, or the sun give them grief.

Talking Dirty

Like I said, super soil is the secret to successful strawberries. They need a slightly acid soil (pH of 6 – 6.5), with a shed-load of compost, some well-rotted poo (worm and cow is good) and a lovely thick mulch layer. Whack them into a slightly raised bed (about 15 – 20cm) or a suitable pot, keeping about 20 – 30cm between your plants. This will give them space to grow, nice air circulation and room to run. Mulch well in between plants with a lovely straw to prevent fungal diseases, and reduce weed invasion.

Avoid mushroom compost and chook poo with your berry babies; it can be a bit too alkaline for their discerning tastes. Generally, I like to prepare my beds for strawbs in advance, about a month or two, as this will ensure a deep, rich, beautiful soil, chock full of humus and raring to go. Two weeks before planting, pull back the mulch a bit, and water the soil with a seaweed tea. Seems like a bit of work, but it’s well worth it at harvest time!

Run, Strawberries, Run!

I reckon the best way to buy strawberries for your patch is not in seedling punnets or pots, but as runners purchased from your local garden centre. I say this because my most successful and hassle free strawbs have always come from good quality runners.

There is an art to planting strawberry runners, and, with all things gardening (and life), practice makes perfect. Use runners with healthy white roots, removing any crusty old roots and leaves from the crown. Dig some nice wide holes, and, in the centre, pop a little pile of soil. Then, gently place the crown on the soil, fanning out the roots over the mound. Sounds complex, but think lava running down a volcano (or chocolate topping on ice-cream) and you’ll get some idea of the desired result. Back fill the hole with soil and firm, making sure the crown is kept at ground level and not buried. Water in well and mulch, avoiding the sensitive stems. Use either a straw mulch or collected pine needles! Too easy!

If this is all a bit too difficult or time consuming, whack in some seedlings instead!

Feed Me!

Even in a nice, rich soil, strawbs will need a bit of a feed (especially the “ever-bear” varieties….more on that in “Hot Tips”). I whack in a weak manure tea at about week three, then a full strength slug of seaweed tea when they start flowering. This will give them a good feed, and the seaweed solution does wonders in preventing fungal infections. Ever bear strawbs need a bit more nitrogen than other varieties, so I tend to give them the occasional blood and bone banquet!

If you are growing strawbs in pots, fertilise them at half the strength but up the frequency.

What about the Water?

Strawberries are an awesome advocate for sub-surface drip irrigation. They like it moist (but not soaking) and hate water on their fruits and foliage (it causes bad things like fungus to happen). They need regular watering and, due to their shallow roots, can dry out pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on it and water when necessary. It’s not a bad idea to ease up on the watering when you see the first wee fruits – this will significantly improve their flavour.

Are We There Yet?

I reckon most of us can tell when a strawberry is ready to be harvested, but, if you are after an exact time, it ain’t going to happen! Strawberries are so variable, with their fruiting time and length dependant on variety, soil, location, temperature and pest issues. Generally speaking, most strawberry varieties are perennial, and, if renovated and maintained between seasons, you can get a few years out of a good, clean, virus-free runner.

Pests and the Rest

Strawberries, being the sensitive little sweeties they are, are susceptible to a fair range of issues. The worst is a suite of viruses that can, over-time, build up and destroy your plants. One tell-tale sign of virus is yellow stripes appearing through the leaves. Plants displaying this virus should be yanked out of the ground and either bagged, or burned.

Crop rotation is darned important with strawbs, and it is recommended that you move your strawberries to a new bed, with fresh soil, every three years. Strawberries shouldn’t be planted where tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums or chillis have been for at least three years as, being a caring, sharing lot, they have a tendency to pass on a strawberry slaying disease.

Mould and fungus can be an issue, especially when the air is cold and there is water hanging around on the foliage. Best way to prevent these issues is to avoid overhead watering, and give them a great straw mulch (they are called “straw”berries after all!). Keep an eye on slugs and snails in the strawberry patch, and, if they do turn up, click here to read all about it!

Hot Tip

My local nursery provides a plethora of plantastic picks during strawberry planting time, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different varieties… from tiny tasty Alpine strawberries to massive mouth-watering monsters, there is a strawberry to suit your patch and tastes.

Eat me!