Harvesting sweet strawberries from your own garden is a very special pleasure. With these tips on planting and care, the cultivation succeeds.
Strawberries (Fragaria) belong to the rose family (Rosaceae) and thus belong to the same plant family as apples, cherries, quinces, and many other types of fruit. Ornamental shrubs such as the finger shrub (Potentilla), the firethorn (Pyracantha), and the spirea (Spiraea) also belong to this family. Typical for the plant family is the relatively simple flowers with five petals.
The natural distribution area of strawberries extends across America, Europe, and Asia. The ancestors of our cultivated strawberry originate from America: in the middle of the 18th century, the North American scarlet strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and the Chilean strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) came to Europe.
At that time, a cross between the two species resulted in the so-called pineapple strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) – a hybrid that is considered the original form of today’s garden strawberries. A variety of the native wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are the monthly strawberries (Fragaria vesca var. semperflorens), which bloom from May to October and bear fruit continuously. For this reason, they are now called everbearing or remontant strawberries.
Appearance and growth
Strawberries are perennial plants, which due to their way of life are categorized as perennials. The flowers and fruits form on long herbaceous stems near the ground. The three- to five-petaled, rich green leaves stand in a rosette. After a cold stimulus, umbels of small white flowers appear, which, depending on the variety, are clearly or barely visible in the foliage. Since the fruit of the strawberry is an aggregate fruit and the actual seeds show up as small yellow nutlets on the outside of the fruit, the fruits of the strawberries belong to the so-called aggregate fruits. So instead of a berry, the strawberry is a nut.
Location and soil
Strawberry plants do best in full sun locations. The more sun the plantlets get, the sweeter the fruits will be. The site should be somewhat sheltered from the wind, but not completely windless so that the foliage dries out as quickly as possible after rainfall and leaf diseases cannot take hold so easily. Locations prone to late frost are unsuitable, as here the flowers easily freeze.
The soil should be loose and not too heavy, deep, and rich in humus, and the pH value should ideally be between 5.5 and 6.5, i.e. in the slightly acidic to the acidic range. Root diseases develop more easily in compacted soils, so it is important to loosen them up with leaf compost or sand before planting and prepare them for the sun-hungry soft fruit with green manure. As a rule, do not use conventional compost from the garden for strawberries. It is too rich in salt and lime and therefore unsuitable for salt-sensitive perennials.
Proper soil preparation is the basis for a good harvest: dig the soil deeply with a digging fork and then work in four to five liters of hummus or leaf compost and about 30 grams of horn meal flat per square meter with a cultivator. Two weeks after preparing the bed, the soil will have settled to the point where you only need to rake the bed smooth. Then you can plant the strawberries.
Crop rotation and mixed cropping
Strawberries produce the highest yield in the second and third years after planting. After that, the yields and also the quality of the fruits decrease continuously. So you should change the bed and plant new seedlings or your own cuttings. Strawberries, like most rose crops, are very sensitive to replanting – that is, you should not plant new strawberries in a bed where strawberries have stood for at least four years to avoid soil fatigue and prevent soil pests such as nematodes. Ideal preceding crops are vegetables with a short growing season, for example, kohlrabi, lettuce, and radishes. Garlic has also proven successful as a mixed crop for strawberries. Onions protect strawberry plants from fungal diseases. Lupines or incarnate clover, for example, can be used as green manure.
When to plant strawberries depends on what kind of strawberries they are. As a general rule, two months before planting, improve the soil with leaf compost and, if available, rotted cow manure. As a rule, from July then young strawberry plants are available in stores. The best time for planting garden strawberries begins in the middle of the month and ends in August – then they give a good yield already in the first year of standing. Multiple-bearing varieties can be planted in the ground from August to September, while monthly and climbing strawberries are best planted in the spring.
The distance between the rows should be at least 60 centimeters, that is, enough so that you can comfortably harvest the fruit. In the row, 25 to 30 centimeters of planting distance is sufficient. Plants should be planted deep enough to keep the heart of the plants above the soil surface. For bare-root young plants, make sure that the roots enter the soil vertically and well spread out. They should not be bent.
To avoid mistakes in the care of strawberries, you should know: Especially during the period of growth and dry weather plants need a lot of water. In addition, when caring for strawberries, it is important to regularly clean the soil from weeds. This can be done in the year of planting by careful hoeing – after that, you should refrain from mechanical tillage and instead mulch the bed with dried lawn clippings. This will keep weeds from growing. By mulching your strawberries with straw starting in early May, you will protect the delicate fruit from moisture and gray mold infestation. In addition, the fruit resting on the ground will remain clean and weeds will continue to be suppressed.
After harvest, the straw should be put aside again. Cut off the leaves of strawberries now and remove all the children that you do not need for propagation. The old foliage is usually infected with fungal diseases and therefore must be carefully removed from the bed. The same applies to weeds that have grown through.
Use a sow tooth to loosen the soil between the rows, which has been compacted by the harvest. Then spread organic berry fertilizer around each plant, followed by mulching with leaf compost. When doing this, feel free to bury the cut plants so that only the tips of the cut leaf stalks are visible. As a rule, you fertilize strawberries only after the harvest, because from then until autumn, the new flower buds are created for the coming strawberry season, for which the plants need a lot of nutrients.
Once-bearing and twice-bearing strawberry varieties in the open ground – unless there is extreme cold – do not require special protection during the winter. However, strawberries kept as container plants must be provided with winter protection in time and moved to a sheltered place, for example, a covered house wall. In the case of permafrost, bring them indoors for safety.
Especially everbearing strawberry varieties, which produce fruit until October, can be cultivated very well in planters. The small and aromatic fruits of these remontant varieties hang in the air instead of resting on the ground.
If you want to grow raspberry or pineapple strawberries in a pot, a tub with a diameter and depth of about 20 centimeters is sufficient. About three plantlets of the smaller Pineberrys will fit in such a pot. Potted strawberries in the first year, as a precaution, overwinter frost-free in a cool, dark place, and do not forget to water.
Somewhat larger pots, tubs, and balcony boxes with water drainage holes are well suited for planting. For varieties, go for hardy everbearing strawberries like ‘Camara’, ‘Cupido’ or ‘Siskeep’. Add potting soil with organic fertilizer to the planters and place the planted containers in a full sun location. In the fall, cut back the plants so they will bear fruit for two more years.
Harvesting and utilization
Once-bearing garden strawberries are usually ready for picking in June. During harvest, plants can be harvested two to three times a week. If varieties with different ripening times are grown next to each other in the bed, the season for fresh strawberries can be extended somewhat. Remontant strawberries are ready for harvesting several times a year, but they are not as productive as garden strawberries.
Since strawberries are very sensitive to pressure and can only be stored for a short time, they should be eaten or processed as fresh as possible – for example, to make strawberry jam or sauce. You can also freeze strawberries, although they are somewhat mushy after thawing. Freezing has proven to be particularly useful for processing the fruit into jam later on. This tastes even usually more aromatic than jam from fresh strawberries.
The varieties bred for yield cultivation are very different from the strawberry varieties for home gardens. They are bred primarily for firm flesh so that they can be easily transported. However, they do not come close to home garden varieties in terms of taste. The most common strawberries are the once-bearing garden strawberries. They also offer the widest range of varieties. Early to medium-early varieties of these include:
- AC Wendy
- Alpine Alexandria
- Alpine Yellow Wonder
- Alpine White Soul
- Berries Galore Pink Hybrid
- Grande Berried Treasure Red
- Mara Des Bois
- Ozark Beauty
- Purple Wonder
- Ruby Ann
- Rutgers Scarlet
- Sweet Charlie
- Sweet Kiss
- White Pineberry
Typical home garden varieties form very soft but highly aromatic fruit. They tend to be somewhat smaller-fruited than the yielding varieties and should be processed quickly, as they cannot be stored for long. Among others, ‘Hummi Praline’ (dark red, fragrant fruits, very sweet and aromatic) or ‘Hummi Silva’ (large and very juicy, aromatic strawberries).
NOTE These varieties are not self-fertile and should therefore be combined with other strawberry plants.
Multiple bearing strawberries are less common in the garden. They bear their first fruit in June/July and set again after a dormant period in late summer/fall. While the first crop is often abundant, the late fruits usually appear sporadically.
The strawberries are usually smaller but more aromatic than the fruits of the once-bearing varieties. You can harvest larger fruits only if you thin out the first fruit clusters as early as May so that only five to six strawberries remain per fruit shoot. Well-known varieties are ‘Ostara’, ‘Selva’, ‘Sweetheart’ or ‘Rapella’, which produces sweet and sour large fruits.
Monthly strawberries, descended from wild strawberries, are very hardy and produce tasty small fruits from June to October. Disadvantage: they can be propagated only by seeds and their yields quickly diminish after the first two years.
Special cultivars are, for example, the meadow strawberry (Fragaria x vescana), the raspberry, and the pineapple strawberry. The meadow strawberry is a cross between the garden strawberry and the wild strawberry and yields small, aromatic fruits. Its runners grow together to form a dense meadow. It is planted in May with three to six plants per square meter. Suitable varieties are ‘Spadeka‘ or ‘Florika‘.
Raspberry-strawberry is not, as the name suggests, a cross between raspberry and strawberry, but a protected new variety of strawberry. However, the appearance and taste of Fragaria x ananassa seem like a mixture of the two red berries. The fruits are firm and not quite as large as those of the classic strawberry.
The seeds are sunk deep into the fruit, forming the characteristic small dimples. They are slightly darker than the common strawberry with a red tint that goes into purple. Recommended varieties are for example ‘Framberry’ or ‘Purple Fresh‘. The flowering period of raspberry strawberries lasts from May to June.
The pineapple strawberry, traded under the brand name ‘Pineberry‘, is also a cultivated form of the garden strawberry. Well-known varieties are ‘White Dream‘ or ‘Anabella‘. Pineapple strawberry has a slight pineapple flavor in addition to its strawberry flavor. But the most striking thing about it is its appearance because the berry is not red, but white with red seeds. In fact, white strawberries were known in South America as early as the 18th century but were not commercially bred until now.
Pineberry is now, thanks to re-crossing, the robust variety of a very old form of strawberry. The berries are initially green, then turn a whitish shade, and are ripe when the nutlets turn red. Since there is currently only one breeder, the pineapple strawberry can be considered a real rarity. The plants remain much smaller than ordinary cultivated strawberries, with growth heights of about 20 centimeters and fruits only two centimeters in size, and are also somewhat more sensitive to pressure. The flowering time is from March to June. The first fruits can then be harvested between May and early July.
Both raspberry and pineapple strawberry are hardy and bear fruit perennially. However, if the plants get too old, the crop yield is significantly reduced, so strawberry plants should generally be replaced after about three years. They can be propagated by cuttings. However, since the two are crosses, the original form may prevail in the process in isolated cases.
Our Tip Combine different varieties of self-fertile garden strawberries as well. On the one hand, you can extend the harvest period by combining early and late cultivars, and on the other hand, yields are higher when a second pollinator variety is planted.
Strawberries reproduce via runners, which in turn continue to reproduce through new leaf rosettes and new runners. Most strawberry varieties have hermaphroditic flowers and, as mentioned earlier, can self-pollinate. For purely female varieties, such as the old and very aromatic ‘Mieze Schindler’, it is necessary to plant a pollinator variety nearby.
Garden strawberries in particular, which form runners, are easily propagated by offshoots: The runners can be taken off and potted or placed in the ground right away. When doing this, be sure to propagate only healthy mother plants. Selection is important: During harvest, mark the plants with labels that bear the most abundantly and grow daughter plants only from these in small pots filled with soil.
After rooting, you can separate the offshoots from the mother plant. Note, however, that strawberries grown from offspring degenerate more and more over time. Therefore, after each self-propagated generation, it makes sense to refresh the stock with purchased young plants. These are now grown exclusively by the so-called meristem propagation. The advantage of this method is that very healthy young plants are obtained that are free of nematodes and pathogens.
Monthly strawberries do not form runners and are therefore propagated by sowing. From February to March, scatter seeds thinly in seed trays or seed trays filled with growing soil. Sprinkle the seeds only lightly with soil and moisten. Ideal for germination is a bright place with about 17 to 20 degrees Celsius. Keep the pots moderately moist.
Once the seedlings have set five leaves, the plantlets can be pricked out into individual pots and continue to keep them evenly moist. After about ten weeks, the seedlings are fertilized and then planted out from the beginning of May with a spacing of about 25 centimeters. In the first year, the harvest will still be small, but from next year the strawberries will bear fruit abundantly.
You can also obtain the seeds of the monthly strawberries yourself by crushing the fully ripe fruits and mixing them with water. After a few hours, the suspended matter will have settled with the seeds and they are poured off. After they have dried for a few days, you can easily separate the seeds from the fruit remains with your fingers.
Diseases and pests
Because of the aforementioned regrowth problem, it is important to change the location of the strawberry bed every three to four years. If this is not followed and there is prolonged wet weather, various diseases and pests can appear on strawberries: The most feared disease is gray mold (Botrytis cinerea). It is caused by a fungus that survives in the foliage in humid conditions.
The causative agent of red spot disease and the very similar black spot disease are also fungi. Furthermore, red root rot can occur, causing the main roots to look sallow and smooth. Curled, brownish discolored heart leaves indicate strawberry mites or soft skin mites. As a preventive measure, you should adhere to care measures such as removing old leaves and offshoots in summer, ensure a sunny and airy location, and grow varieties that are less susceptible to disease, such as ‘Pegasus’. Millipedes like to nibble on plants, especially during drought. If you find bent stems and dried flowers, the strawberry blossom pest is probably at work.
Frequently asked questions
Where do strawberries come from?
The ancestors of our cultivated strawberries originally came from America. In the middle of the 18th century, they were brought to us in Europe.
When can strawberries be planted?
Strawberries are usually planted from mid-July to August. While multi-bearing varieties are planted in the ground from August to September, monthly strawberries are best planted in the spring.
What kind of soil is suitable for strawberries?
Strawberries prefer a humus-rich substrate with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
When can you fertilize strawberries?
As a rule, fertilize strawberries only after harvest. Purely organic berry fertilizers are optimal. You can prepare the bed with leaf humus or bark compost. Compost, mineral, or organic-mineral fertilizers are not suitable.
When can strawberries be transplanted?
As a rule, strawberries do not need to be transplanted. Replace them with new plants after three years at the latest, otherwise, the yield will decrease. Note that transplanting is generally difficult – the plants are sensitive to regrowth and do not grow in places where recently stood other rose plants.
When to cut strawberries?
In early spring, cut off all dead leaves. In the case of single-bearing strawberries, all runners are cut in the summer. Furthermore, cut off the outer leaf crown and all diseased leaves immediately after harvest. On the other hand, runners of multiple-bearing varieties are cut back only in autumn.
When can strawberries be picked?
Single-bearing strawberries are usually ready for harvest in June and can be harvested several times. Multiple-bearing varieties can be harvested again in August after a break.
How should strawberries be stored?
Freshly picked strawberries are best stored unwashed and as dry as possible in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator – preferably in a cardboard box or kitchen towel.
Which strawberries are the best?
With about 1,000 varieties of strawberries worldwide, it is definitely a matter of taste which variety appeals to you the most. However, it is safe to say that strawberries taste best when they are picked fresh.
Can strawberries be washed?
Yes, however, strawberries should be washed just before eating, as they stay fresh longer if unwashed. It is better not to use running water, but standing water.