Worried about all of the pesticides used on store-bought strawberries? Then maybe it’s time you started growing strawberries in your garden. These sweet, delicious berries are relatively easy to grow—and (like most berries) they’re loaded with healthy antioxidants and phytonutrients.
The Different Types of Strawberry Plants
If you’re planning on growing strawberries, it’s important that you find the right type of strawberry plant for your needs. Different cultivars have different strengths, making some ideal for canning while others are much better suited to summer snacking. So, which of these four popular types of garden strawberries are right for you?
Junebearers (Fragaria x ananassa), which, true to their name, bear fruit in June or July for most of the U.S., are relatively easy to care for and best used for freezing, canning and drying because they produce one huge crop over a month (rather than several smaller crops). Considered by some to be the highest quality strawberry you can grow, Junebearers are quite prolific, so they tend to spread quickly and produce plenty of runners.
Everbearers (Fragaria x ananassa), which produce three crops (one in June, one in summer, and then one in the early fall) are another popular choice. Because Everbearers produce more evenly throughout the growing season than Junebearers, they’re a good choice for gardeners who want access to fresh, homegrown strawberries. They tend to do well in Northern climates with long summer days, and because they produce fewer runners than Junebearers, they’re easier to control.
Day Neutrals (Fragaria x ananassa) can be extremely productive but are also a bit tempermental. This type of garden strawberry produces fruit from June until the 1st frost in cooler climates and from January (yes, January!) through August in warmer climates. Unfortunately, they’re known for being sensitive to heat and weed competition.
Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), which are known for being very easy to care for, are another popular choice. If it’s your first time growing strawberries, you may want to start with these popular, little strawberry plants. They produce small, sweet berries from early summer until the 1st frost and, because they do not spread by runners (they’re actually grown from strawberry seeds), they’re extremely easy to control.
Region Matters When It Comes to Strawberries
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re deciding what type of strawberry to grow is region. Different strawberry cultivars have been adapted for different regions, so there are varieties that excel at growing in colder regions, resisting pest infestation, etc. So, find the right regional cultivar and you’ll go a long way in preventing problems and producing more strawberries in your garden. For instance, if you live in a colder clime but still want to grow strawberries, try Honeoye and Jewel. If disease and pest resistance are bigger concerns for you, consider Seascape (which is known for excellent virus and disease resistance) or Rainier (an adaptable Junebearer).
Also, before trying to grow strawberries in your garden, consider what disease challenges are common in your region. Because garden strawberries face a number of challenges (such as fruit rot, leaf spot, black root rot, verticillium wilt, red stele, leaf scorch, leaf blight, and more) and are prey to something like 200 species of pests, it makes sense to see if there is a strawberry variety well-suited for the growing challenges common to your local growing conditions. For an incredibly useful list of the disease resistance of various strawberry varieties, check out this list.
General Growing Tips for Strawberries
If you’re ready to get down, dirty and grow some strawberries, remember:
- They prefer slightly acidic, fertile, well-drained soil. They also need full sun (except Alpine strawberries, which can do well in partial shade), and tend to do better when planted on sloping or high ground.
- If you want your strawberry plants to channel their energy into producing fruit (instead of spreading), remove runners as they appear. If, however, you’re more concerned with establishing a nice, thick strawberry patch, let runners and daughter plants spread without intervention. (This wouldn’t apply to Alpine strawberries, however, since they only spread by seed.)
- Pinch off early strawberry blossoms the 1st year. This tends to increase plant vigor and to help plants establish themselves.
- Strawberries are shallow rooted, so they can be sensitive to aggressive weed competition. So, controlling weeds is vital to the long-term health and productivity of garden strawberries. (Worried about weeds and disease? Check out this article on natural ways to keep your garden healthy.)
- Mulch is your friend. Not only can a generous helping of mulch help protect your growing strawberry plants from frost heave, weed competition, and moisture loss, some types of mulch have even been found to have very real (and good) effects on fruit production. In particular, plastic red mulch has been shown to significantly impact the production of strawberries, cantaloupe and peppers.
Maintaining Strawberry Plants
Once you’ve put the time and effort into establishing your own strawberry patch, you’ll want to know how to maintain your strawberry plants so that they remain healthy and productive. Although growing strawberries isn’t particularly difficult, strawberries do need some amount of care and maintenance to thrive. Remember:
- Strawberry plants aren’t immortal, and they typically show signs of decline after a few years. To keep your strawberry beds healthy and productive, you’ll want to start fresh plants or beds every few seasons. If you can rotate the site, even better, but if not, be sure to keep your soil fertile and disease-free.
- When harvesting, cull any diseased, infected, moldy or deformed berries that you see right away. Moldy berries, in particular, should be culled every day. To prevent spreading mold spores, be sure to “quarantine” your hands by picking moldy and healthy berries separately, putting them in separate baskets, and washing your hands when switching between harvesting healthy and bad berries.
- Strawberry plants tend to prefer lighter but consistent fertilizer application, so two feedings per year is more than enough. And don’t over fertilize. Not only could you damage your plants, you’ll see softer fruit and encourage fruit rot.
Hopefully these tips for growing strawberries should get you off to a good start. For more in-depth information on caring for your garden or growing your favorite fruits and vegetables, be sure to check out my Garden Guides page. Good luck!