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Why not enjoy gracing the table with big, juicy, fresh strawberries from your own garden, for it's not as complicated or hazardous as people often think to grow colorful, lush, fruit. Strawberries are one of the most suitable plants to cultivate in the small back garden. They require very little space and new plants can easily be propagated from the mother plant, by cutting-off the rooted runners. It's fun, too, to grow your own!

Even if you happen to live in a small apartment you can still grow strawberries-they're an easy plant to grow in a window box or the oddest of containers. They require little space and virtually no chemicals are necessary, organic fertilizers if properly used are very satisfactory.

An urban garden can range in size from a window box to an area of several hundred square yards. Moreover, regardless of the size, permaculture techniques can be used in growing plants for food and other purposes. Strawberries can be grown successfully in a window box, so even if you do not have a garden it is still possible to grow some and contribute to sustainable living.

It should be stressed, that strawberries have been successfully grown in tubes, pots, window boxes, polythene tubes with compost, old wash tubs and in hanging baskets of all shapes and sizes. They've been lovingly nurtured in improvised containers in prisons, in army barracks, on rooftops: you name it and the chances are that somebody somewhere will have grown strawberries there. People have grown strawberries in the upland areas of the steaming, humid tropics. In the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, for instance, you'll find hard working Chinese families cultivating lush, red berries to grace the tables of the local tourist hotels.

Site Selection

If you want to get nice big well colored fruits from your back garden, the best place to plant them is in the sunniest part. Strawberries grow better in a garden site that is open to direct sunlight most of the day. You should try to avoid very low-lying areas that are prone to spring frosts. Get yourself a white spun bonded row cover in order to protect open strawberry blossoms from spring frosts. Do avoid planting where tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, raspberries or black berries have been grown in the past three years. These plants can act as hosts for the likes of fungi and insect pests that build-up in the soil unless you place these crops on at least a three year rotation schedule. Strawberry plantings can remain productive for three to four fruiting years. It is possible to minimize the onset of disease and insect problems through rotation of the strawberry patch from one site to another, every time you carry out a new planting.

Soils

A well-drained loam soil, high in organic matter is just about ideal. You should avoid planting in heavy clay soils. If your soil is sandy, give proper attention to watering and fertilization. Nonetheless, with careful planning, strawberries will, in fact, tolerate a very wide range of soil types, providing you do properly modify the soil. You are able to improve most garden soils by adding organic matter : the best soil amendment is often compost, which will give sustenance to the plants, protect them from disease and improve the soil. Some gardeners add bonemeal to the soil.

Variety Selection

There are numerous strawberry cultivar varieties available. It is, however, prudent to select only varieties adapted to the climatic conditions of the part of the country where you live. Make sure you get disease-free plants from a reputable nursery since it is not really a good idea to utilise your own plants or your neighbor's plants. Your local Cooperative Extension Agent would be able to give you advice on suitable nurseries. According to the North Carolina, Department of Agriculture ever bearing varieties like Ozark Beauty and Superfection have generally not performed well in North Carolina. Among varieties that could be considered are Apollo, Cardinal, Earlibelle, Earliglow, Prelude and Titan.


Fertilization

The strawberry plant is shallow rooted and requires fertilization during the growing season in order to keep it vigorous; plants will need to be fertilized prior to September, before the period of fruit-bud initiation. The local Department of Agriculture office would be able to give you information relating to soil pH, dolomitic lime requirement, available phosphorous, potassium and magnesium levels.

Planting in a Window Box

A dozen or so plants in a pot on a sunny windowsill in a warm apartment, kept at around 28 C, would almost certainly provide enough strawberries for you to enjoy on your Christmas Day meal. Ever bearing or day, neutral types are best suited for container production. The containers should be well drained. A recommended soil mixture consists of 1 part soil, 1 part peat moss and 2 parts garden soil. The peat moss can be replaced with well-rotted manure or compost. Mix about ½ cup of complete fertilizer, such as 10-20-20, into each bushel of the growing medium.

The plants will need to be potted in July and from August onwards they should only be exposed to light for a maximum eight hours a day. This is particularly important and to cover the pots for the other hours of the days you'll need to use some black colored material. With adequate care your plants should begin flowering towards the end of October, what a nice sight it is! Don't forget that the plants, from now on, will require careful dusting with a small brush so that each is pollinated and will bear fruit worthy of your table. Provided you keep your plants watered and fed you should be well rewarded with luscious, ripe, red strawberries.

Harvesting

Fruit harvested in the morning will usually have a longer shelf-life. Pick the berries when the top of the strawberry is completely red-once picked they will not continue to ripen. Make sure you pick all ripe berries; fruit left on the plant become overripe, which helps promote development of disease and causes insect problems. You can refrigerate strawberries for several days. You should avoid washing fruit until just before you use it, this is necessary to order to avoid softening and decay.

Home-produced fruit brings its own rewards even aside from the obvious satisfaction of eating from your very own crop. It's a pleasant hobby for young and old alike and if you want to eat strawberries at Christmas you would otherwise probably be limited to those expensive frozen ones down at the local supermarket. Berries not eaten fresh can be readily frozen or preserved. Strawberries besides being a tasty dessert fruit are also a good source of vitamin C and are low in calories.

Increasingly too many people prefer not to buy too much fruit from commercial sources since they feel that much of this fruit will have been sprayed with pesticides. What is nicer than a bowl of strawberries and cream? That is de riguer at the famous Wimbledon tennis tournament in London.

Somehow too your own home grown produce always seems to taste so much better and fresher. This Christmas, after you've had your lunch why don't you tuck into those lush, ripe, juicy strawberries that you grew in your back garden or in the window box.