Strawberries are easy to grow and even a few plants can give a plentiful supply of sweet succulent fruits in summer, which are especially appreciated by children.
There are three kinds of strawberries:
- Alpine strawberries are usually grown in shade in ornamental gardens. They need no special care and can be left to fend for themselves after planting
- Large fruited ‘summer bearers’ flower in the short days of late spring for crops in summer, and to a much lesser extent in autumn
- Large fruited ‘perpetual’ strawberries form flower buds in summer to crop from late summer into autumn over a long period. Perpetuals bear fruit in regular flushes from July until the first autumn frosts. To ensure a good late summer crop, remove the first flowers of the season produced in May. Fruit size and yield reduces in the second year and they are best replanted annually
A bed of strawberries usually lasts up to four years if planted into well-drained, fertile soil free from troublesome weeds. To avoid disease build-up, choose a different plot and replant strawberries every three years. Strawberries will tolerate shade, but will thrive in sunshine.
Enrich the soil by mixing in a bucketful of well-rotted manure or other organic matter before planting. Forking in a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore, at 100g per sq m (3oz per sq yd.) will also help produce good yields.
Strawberries can also be grown in raised beds where drainage is poor.
Unless growing through polythene, protect the developing fruits from wet soil by tucking straw or special ‘strawberry mats’ under the plants.
If frost threatens, protect the early flowers overnight with horticultural fleece.
Strawberry plants are cheap and easy to plant:
- Plant in early autumn or in mid-spring
- Remove flowers from spring-planted strawberries in the first season to encourage their roots to establish
- Crowns (the tops of individual dormant plants) should be at soil level, 40cm (16in) apart in the row with 1m (3ft) between the rows
- Many gardeners grow strawberries through polythene, ideally white, with black on the underside, but any plastic mulching film will do. This suppresses weeds, conserves water and stops soil splashing on the fruit
- After the final harvest of the summer, tuck spare runners (young plants that develop as offshoots from the parent) into the row to fill in gaps or replace old plants. Remove any unwanted runners
- Some gardeners prefer a continuous row in the second and third year rather than spaced plants; the total yield may be higher, although the quality of the fruits is not so good. Whatever method used, try to keep the gap between the rows clear to get at the plants for weeding and harvest
- Cut off the old foliage of summer bearers after cropping has finished, cutting to about 10cm (4in) above the crown to allow the new leaves to come through
- Reduce pests and diseases by clearing away the cut foliage and any straw or other debris from around the plants
- Nets will be needed to prevent birds stripping the fruit, but remove nets after harvest to allow birds to feed on remaining pests
- Don't cut back perpetual-fruiting cultivars just remove the old leaves in autumn
- Little feeding is required but you can apply sulphate of potash by the end of January at 15g per sq m (approx 0.5oz per sq yd) in order to raise potassium levels. Where plants seem to be growing poorly add a general-purpose fertiliser such as Growmore at 35g per m² (1oz per sq yd) after harvest, taking particular care to avoid the crown, as fertilisers can scorch
Strawberries are easy to grow in containers. Peat-free multipurpose compost is a good choice. Suitable containers include grow bags, hanging baskets, troughs and tubs. Healthy productive plants are sadly difficult to achieve in the traditional strawberry pot.
Container cultivation avoids the build up of soil problems, but vine weevil control is often essential. See the problems section for further detail.
Strawberries can be propagated in late summer, but no later than early autumn, by sinking 9cm (3.5in) pots filled with potting media, such as general-purpose potting compost, into the beds and inserting individual runners into them. Sever the new young plants from the parent plant when rooted. Perpetual strawberries produce few runners and new plants are best bought in annually.
Seed raised cultivars are available but are not recommended, except for alpine strawberries.
‘Rosie’: This is a very early summer bearer with good flavour.
‘Symphony’ AGM: This is a reliable and heavy cropping summer bearer, cropping in late summer with good flavour.
‘Aromel’ AGM: This is a moderately heavy cropping perpetual strawberry with very good flavour.
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RHS Fruit AGM list
Common name Strawberry
Botanical name Fragaria x ananassa
Fruiting time Summer to autumn
Planting time Early autumn or spring
Height and spread Up to 30cm (12in) height and 45cm (18in) spread
Aspect Sun preferred, but will tolerate some shade
Hardiness Hardy, but flowers can be damaged by frost