How to Plant Strawberries
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Bright red, sweet, and juicy strawberries are among the most popular fruits out there! They’re versatile and can be added to various dishes and baked goods.
To help ensure your Strawberries thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Varieties of Strawberries available
Caring for Strawberries at all stages
Fertilizer and Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants for Strawberries
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Strawberries
Listen to this Article
Glossary of strawberry terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about strawberries!
Strawberry runners are technically called “stolons.” The word comes from the Latin word “stolo,” meaning a shoot, branch, or twig springing from the root. Stolons are horizontal stems that run above the ground and produce new clone plants.
A group or cluster of smaller stems.
The long, leafless stems between the mother plant, plant-growing nodes, and growing tip of the stolon.
When a leaf has three leaflets.
The stalk that joins the leaf to its stem.
Varieties of strawberries
There are three types of strawberries available to grow in your garden.
Strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop from mid-June to early July. Of the three types, June-bearing strawberries typically produce the most significant yield per season but are shorter.
• Annapolis: Vigorous plants produce medium to large fruit with a mild, sweet flavor. It also has lots of runners.
• Earliglow: Firm, glossy fruit with the classic strawberry flavor. They have some disease resistance, are vigorous, and are an excellent variety for beginners.
• Jewel: Firm, glossy fruit with excellent flavor. It tolerates molds and rots and is a heavy producer.
• Honeoye: This variety is very productive and aromatic. They’re large, glossy, crimson berries with excellent flavor, some disease resistance, and they’re easy to grow.
• Cavendish: Ripens over a long season and produces large berries with good flavor.
This type produces two crops - one in early summer and the second in early fall.
Ogallala: These vigorous plants produce soft, deep red, rich-flavored berries. They’re also drought tolerant.
These plants produce fruit throughout most of the growing season and are a good choice for container planting.
Seascape: Productive from the early summer through to fall. It has bright red berries inside and out and is disease resistant.
Albion Medium: firm berries that have excellent flavor. It produces consistently from June until frost. San Andreas A late-ripening variety with large, firm, dark red fruit that has a good taste.
Alpine strawberry: Not a variety but a different type/ species of strawberry that grows well in part shade. Since it doesn’t produce runners, the plants stay small.
Note: Ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberries are great for gardeners with limited space. They can be grown in terraced beds, barrels, or pyramids. They can also be used as an edging plant or a groundcover.
Growing strawberry plants from seed are more complex than simply buying them, but it can still be done!
GROWING FROM SEEDS
Strawberry seeds need to be cold treated to encourage their germination. Simply wrap the seeds, put them in an airtight container, then place them in your freezer.
Remove the seeds from your freezer after keeping the strawberry seeds below freezing for 2-4 weeks. Leave them in the jar or container so that they gradually warm up to room temperature.
Next, prepare a seed tray! A good mix for starting strawberry seeds is using three parts peat to 1 part organic-rich soil. Spread this out in your seed tray to a depth of about a half-inch.
Then, moisten the mixture with water until evenly damp. You can sprinkle your strawberry seeds over the damp mix and then cover them with a very thin dusting of peat moss.
If possible, keep your seeds indoors in a well-lighted room with direct sunlight. In 2-3 weeks, your strawberry seeds should germinate.
GROWING FROM PLANTS
Virus-free, year-old plants should be set out early in the spring, about 3-4 weeks before the last frost.
Spread the roots out and then firm the soil carefully around them to prevent air pockets – which can make roots dry out. If your soil is dry, then you’ll want to water your strawberries after planting them.
TIP: Warmth can help your seeds germinate, so the top of a Refrigerator or on the bottom of a heating pad can help the process along.
Caring for Strawberries
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about sunlight requirements, pruning, and watering your strawberries. We’ll also cover fertilizer and mulch, renovation, transplanting, and more!
Strawberries also need full sun to produce their fruit. Ten or more hours of sunlight each day is ideal, but they need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
By choosing the right site to grow your strawberries, you can lower their risk of diseases and pests.
Make sure to choose a spot away from trees and buildings that would cast shade for more than a few hours each day. Trees will also compete for water and nutrients, so your strawberry bed should be in a spot beyond the root zone of large trees.
Strawberries should also be planted in well-drained soil that doesn’t puddle after heavy rainfall. Planting on higher ground minimizes frost damage while increasing the air circulation around your plants. Good air circulation allows your berries to dry out faster, lowering their risk for disease.
If you’re planting a large number of strawberries, you’ll want to plant them in rows, which makes it easier to control weeds, runners, and pests. There are many ways of row planting that work well for strawberries, but the most common one is the matted row system.
To plant your strawberries in this matted row system, space your plants 18-24 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart. June-bearing plants, in particular, will send out a lot of runners during the season, which fills in the space between plants. That means it’s crucial to go with this recommended spacing; otherwise, your plants will get overcrowded very quickly.
PINCHING AND PRUNING
After planting your strawberries, pinch off any flower buds that appear during the first few weeks.
This allows your plant to grow leaves and roots so that when the flowers are pollinated and begin to produce fruit, there’s enough energy in the plant to develop large, juicy strawberries.
Strawberries don’t need pruning, but the runners can be removed if required. Keep in mind that if you want your plants to grow year after year, some of the runners should be allowed to root to rejuvenate your patch.
Try to plant your strawberries on a cloudy day or during the late afternoon. Plant them so that the soil is just covering the tops of the roots, but make sure not to cover the crown. After 4-5 weeks, your plants will produce runners and new daughter plants.
Strawberries need about one inch of water per week during the growing season.
THINNING & TRANSPLANTING
Suppose your strawberry seeds sprout too close to each other; thin them when they are between 1-2 inches tall, keeping the most extensive and most vigorous seedlings.
Then, gently transfer the strawberry seedlings to larger containers or pots after growing their third leaves.
Because strawberries are poor competitors, you’ll want to keep all weeds out of your strawberry bed. We recommend weeding by hand, but careful cultivation with a hoe is also effective. Just be careful not to dig too deeply, as you could damage your plant’s shallow root system.
Strawberry plants can also be grown as a ground cover! To do so, space the mother plants in a grid, either one that’s 1x1 foot or 2x2 feet. It’ll need regular weeding, especially in the first year, but you won’t have to maintain them as much once your plants are established.
Strawberries grown as a ground cover may not produce quite as much fruit as those grown in rows, but the plants will add a beautiful touch to your garden.
The crown of a strawberry plant can be killed at 15°F, so it is essential to protect them in the winter. After 2-3 frosts have hardened off your plants, cover them with 4-6 inches of weed-free straw.
It’s beneficial to use straw in the late fall or early spring when bitterly cold temperatures might happen without snow cover.
For its part, snow is an excellent insulator and can provide enough protection (where snow cover is reliable and consistent). In the spring, when growth begins, rake the straw away – leaving some at the base of your plants to act as a summer mulch.
TIP: If frost is predicted after the flowering process begins, either re-cover your plants with straw or protect them with spun-bonded polyester fabric row covers.
This is an essential part of strawberry care. To make sure they produce their fruit well, June-bearing strawberries grown in the matted row system should be renovated every year right after harvest. A strawberry patch will continue to be productive for 3-4 years as long as you keep planting! Here’s how to renovate your strawberries:
Step 1: Mow their old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns. Rake the leaves, and if they’re disease-free, compost or incorporate them into your soil.
Step 2: Fertilize with one pound of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Step 3: Narrow the rows to 6-12 inches wide by spading, hoeing, or rototilling, making sure to remove any weeds.
Step 4: Thin your plants in the narrowed row so that there are about 4-6 inches between each one.
Step 5: Water with one inch of water each week to promote growth and make new runners for next year’s crop.
MATTED ROW SYSTEMS
The best system for growing June-bearing cultivars. In this system, your strawberry plants should be set 18-30 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart. Daughter plants can then root freely to become a matted row no wider than two feet.
This system limits the number of daughter plants that grow from a mother plant.
The mother plants are typically set 18-30 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart so that the daughter plants are spaced to root no closer than 4 inches apart.
All other runners should then be pulled or cut from the mother plants. Even though more care is needed for this system, its advantages include higher yields, larger berries, and fewer disease problems. It’s definitely worth the effort!
This is the best system for growing day-neutral and ever-bearing strawberries. In this system, all the runners are removed so that only the original mother plant remains. Eliminating the runners causes the mother plant to develop more crowns and flower stalks.
For a hill system, multiple rows are arranged in groups of 2, 3, or 4 plants with a 2-foot walkway between each group of rows.
Plants are then set about 1 foot apart in multiple rows.
During the first 2-3 weeks of growth, your plants should be weeded, and the bed should also be mulched.
FERTILIZER AND/OR MULCHING
Before planting, apply one pound per 100 square feet of a 10-10-10 fertilizer and dig it into your soil at least 6-8 inches deep. After the first harvest in the second season, strawberries should be fertilized after building up in July.
You’ll want to water the fertilizer to get it down to the root zone in your soil to keep your plants vigorous and promote new growth that will develop more fruit buds.
Note: Ensure not to over-fertilize because it can cause excessive vegetative growth, reduced yields, increased losses from frost, and leaf disease. It can also result in winter injury.
If June-bearing plants don’t produce many runners by mid-July, it usually means the plants need more nitrogen. You can apply compost or an organic fertilizer, like blood meal, around your plants to increase their nitrogen levels and encourage growth.
Before your plants begin to grow in the spring of the second year, you might also need to add more compost or organic nitrogen.
Most home garden strawberry plantings are mulched. Any organic material free of weed seed makes for a good mulch – hay, straw, and pine needles are most commonly used.
Mulch should be applied 2-4 inches deep over and around your plants after the first freezing weather in the fall. This protects them from heaving and freezing injury during the winter.
After the danger of frost is over in the spring, about half of the mulch should then be raked off your plants and into the area between the rows.
Note: When you leave mulch around your plants, it will help keep the berries clean, conserves their moisture, and limits weed growth.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
If your strawberry seeds were started indoors, they need to be hardened off before planting outside. Once the temperature gets to 50°F, start taking your plants out in the shade for several hours each day.
Gradually increase the plants’ time outside, eventually leaving them there overnight when the temperature allows. Start moving them into the sun, gradually increasing their amount of exposure, to finish the hardening-off process. This all ensures that your plants won’t be damaged or killed by their new environment.
PLANTING BEDS & SOIL
These are ideal for strawberries, which benefit from good drainage and fluffy soil. Regardless of your soil type in the garden, raised garden beds let you tailor your soil to suit your strawberries.
They prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, preferably around 6.0 - 6.2, with soil that's rich in organic matter and nutrients, moist, and well-draining.
Note: It’s much easier to achieve all these perfect conditions in a raised bed or containers.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
These tiny plants respond strongly to those grown nearby. You can couple them with beans, borage, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach, and thyme.
Avoid planting near Brassicas like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, and kohlrabi, as well as fennel.
Fun random fact: Strawberries are not a true berry – they’re an aggregate fruit!
Common Challenges, and their solutions
Some several pests and diseases can potentially harm your strawberries. Not to worry – we’ve listed them below, plus how to either avoid or fix the problem!
Small insects that tend to feed in groups on the undersides of branches and leaves.
Solution: Use a strong water jet to wash the aphids off your plants.
Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are also useful options; just follow the application instructions on their packaging.
You can often get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of your plants with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap (one variation of this mixture includes a pinch of cayenne pepper).
Note: soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for about two weeks, and make sure not to dilute it before spraying on your plants.
Thrips are tiny, needle-thin insects that are black or straw-colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves, and stems. Affected plants will then have rough bumps, discolored flecking, or silvering on their leaves. Thrips can also spread many diseases from plant to plant.
Solution: Many thrips can be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between the rows of your plants. Be sure to also remove weeds and debris from your garden bed after frost.
Avoid planting next to onions, garlic, or cereals where vast numbers of thrips can build up, and use reflective mulches early in the growing season to deter them.
Spinosad and neem oil can also be used to spot treat heavily infested areas.
Finally, you can release commercially available predators like minute pirate bugs, ladybugs, and lacewings (especially effective in greenhouses).
Note: For best results, make these releases after first knocking down severe infestations with a spray from your garden hose.
These pests leave large holes in the leaves or eat them entirely. They leave behind a slime trail, feed at night, and thrive in damp weather.
Solution: If possible, hand-pick any slugs at night when they’re most active.
You can also try attracting them to traps, either using cornmeal or beer.
For a beer trap:
Dig a hole in the ground for a beer trap and place a large cup or bowl into the hole. It’s best to use something with steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re done.
Fill the bowl about three-quarters of the way, complete with beer, and let it sit overnight.
The bowl should then be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat in the morning.
For a cornmeal trap: put 1-2 tablespoons of cornmeal in a jar, then lay the jar on its side near your plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent, but they can’t digest cornmeal, which eventually kills them.
You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth (a natural powder made up of the skeletons of tiny aquatic creatures).
Heavy feeding by these young larvae leads to skeletonized leaves.
Solution: Release their natural enemies to manage armyworm infestations. There are also certain types of bacteria you can use to control these pests.
Leaves will become skeletonized by this pest, with only their veins remaining. Flowers and buds are affected, and plant damage can be pretty extreme.
Solution: If beetles were a problem in the previous year, use floating row covers to protect your plants or spray kaolin clay. Adult beetles can be hand-picked from your plants and destroyed by placing them in soapy water, while certain predators can be added to your soil to lower the number of overwintering grubs. As well, insecticidal soaps or neem oil can help repel them.
These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper and can be red, black, brown, or yellow. They suck on the plant juices, removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which then cause white dots to appear. Often there’s also some webbing visible on the plant. Spider mites cause leaves to turn yellow and become dry and dotted. Typically, they multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions.
Solution: Spider mites can sometimes be controlled with a forceful water spray every other day. You can also try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap to get rid of them – just be mindful that certain sprays can also kill off their natural predators.
Strawberries are vulnerable to fruit rots and leaf diseases. Fungi-causing fruit rots will infect the flowers and fruit as early as bloom time, while leaf diseases often have little effect on your plant’s growth. To keep fungi to a minimum:
• Plant strawberries in full sun.
• Avoid crowding your plants.
• Water early in the day to reduce the amount of water on the flowers and fruit.
• Use straw mulch under your plants.
The most common fruit rot disease of strawberries, gray mold, thrives in prolonged cool, wet weather during your plant’s flowering process. It can start anywhere on the fruit, but it’s most commonly found on the stem.
Solution: Honeoye is a variety that has shown partial resistance to gray mold, so it would be a good one to grow. If you’re planting in patches with a history of gray mold, make sure to remove and destroy all straws in the early spring.
Then, place fresh straw or other organic mulch between your beds to reduce rain splash and weeds and improve air circulation around your berries. Also, avoid wounding your plants since wounds act as an entry point for this disease.
Be sure to remove any infected plants and destroy them. As well, clean thoroughly between your plants so that the infection can’t spread.
You can also try using sprays like copper-soap fungicides, which will help protect plants from disease spores. Apply at the start of flowering, then continue every 7-10 days until harvest. Fungicidal sprays are beneficial when weather forecasts.
Circular, deep purple spots will first appear on the upper leaves. These spots grow, and their centers turn grayish to white on older leaves and light brown on young leaves. These spots will also have a defined reddish-purple to the rusty brown border.
Many small, irregular, purplish spots or “blotches” will develop on the upper surface of your plant’s leaves. The centers of these blotches become brownish, and the marks may come together until they nearly cover the leaflet. At this point, the leaflet will turn a purple, red, or brown color.
This disease starts with a few circular reddish-purple spots on the leaflet. Spots will eventually grow to V-shaped lesions that are light brown towards the middle and dark brown on the edges. The whole leaflet may turn brown, and in severe cases, stolons, fruit trusses and petioles may become infected, which can kill the entire stem of your plant.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT LEAF SPOT, LEAF SCORCH, AND LEAF BLIGHT
These diseases are controlled most effectively by growing resistant varieties. These June-bearing varieties are said to be resistant to both leaf spot and leaf scorch: Allstar, Canoga, Cardinal, Delite, Earliglow, Honeoye, Jewell, Lester, Midway, and Redchief. The ever-bearing varieties, Tribute, and Tristar, are also said to be tolerant to leaf spot and leaf scorch.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any varieties with a reported resistance to leaf blight. However, these cultural practices should help lower infections:
• Remove older and infected leaves from runner plants.
• Take care to space your runner plants in a matted-row system.
• Plant in light, well-drained soil in a spot that gets all-day sun and good air circulation.
• Control the growth of weeds, since they reduce air circulation and increase drying time for leaves (the longer the leaves are wet, the more prone they are to disease).
• Remove any infected leaves after harvest (during renovation), which can help control diseases.
STRAWBERRY BLACK ROOT ROT
Infected plants will have poor growth and produce fewer and smaller fruit. As the disease becomes more severe, plants become very stunted. They might also wilt, and the edges of leaves can turn brown or have a ‘scorched’ appearance. Infected roots turn soft and mushy, and can be more easily damaged.
Solution: There are no strawberry varieties that are resistant to black root rot, but good site selection and proper plant care can help prevent this disease. Choose a spot with good drainage, or improve drainage before planting by adding organic matter to your soil and redirecting water away from the area. Strawberries can also be planted in raised beds where the drainage helps to ward off rot fungi.
Also, add organic matter like high quality compost, peat or straw to your soil before planting, which will improve drainage as well as your soil quality. In existing patches with black root rot, consider starting with new plants in a new spot.
Make sure you don't relocate old plants to the new location though, because the disease will be carried on the roots of any infected plants.
ANGULAR LEAF SPOT (ALS)
A disease that mainly infects leaves, causing water-soaked angular spots to appear. By picking up a leaf and holding it to the light, you should be able to notice it on the lower surface: spots will appear translucent with light behind them, but then look dark green when the leaf is held in your hand.
Solution: If angular leaf spot has been a problem in the past, don’t plant these susceptible varieties: Allstar, Annapolis, Cavendish, Honeoye and Kent. Water your strawberries using either a drip system or a soaker hose. If overhead sprinkling is your only option, then you’ll want to water early in the morning on a sunny day so that the leaves can dry quickly.
Also, avoid working in an infected patch when your plants are wet, since bacteria is easily spread on hands and tools. Use straw mulch to minimize water splashing, and remove any weeds to improve air circulation around your plants.
Build strawberry beds every year after harvest, and then following, make sure to rake and remove any old leaves.
White patches of fungal growth will develop on the lower leaves of your plant. In some varieties, this fluffy white growth is thick, abundant, and can cover the entire leaf surface. Some varieties develop purple to red blotches when infected, and oftentimes the leaves will curl up. Infected fruit will have raised seeds, a bronze color, and patches of fluffy white fungal growth.
Solution: Consider spraying your infected plants with certain protectant (preventative) fungicides. Sulfur, lime-sulfur, neem oil, and potassium bicarbonate are all effective, but will work best when you use them before the infection happens, or when you first spot signs of the disease.
If you don’t want to use chemical fungicides, try spraying your plants with a bicarbonate solution by simply mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 quart of water. Make sure to spray your plants thoroughly, since the solution will only kill fungi that it comes into contact with.
Once your plants are heavily infected, it’s very difficult to get rid of the disease, so focus on preventing it from spreading to your other plants. It’s also very important to remove and destroy all infected leaves, stems, and fruit.
Remember not to compost any infected plants, because the disease can still be spread by the wind and can thrive in composted materials.
Harvesting and Storing
Strawberries are typically ready for harvesting about 4-6 weeks after blossoming. They tend to ripen anytime from early July until frost arrives.
Make sure to harvest only the fully red (ripe) berries, and pick them every three days.
When you harvest, you’ll want to cut them by the stem instead of pulling the berry, because you risk damaging the plant when you pull them off.
In general, strawberries ripen from the tip towards the leafy stem end. Some varieties have “white shoulders” because their leaves cover the fruit, which keeps them from fully turning red. For the most part though, they’ll be completely red when ripe. And no matter what, they’ll be delicious!
Strawberries do not store for very long in the fridge, so for best results, pick when they’re dry and then put them in your fridge immediately. This will help extend the storage life of your freshly picked berries.
Continue to water your plants, then thin them – leaving your remaining plants about 6-8 inches apart. As well, remove older, woody plants and leave the younger plants for next year. You can then fertilize around them with compost to keep them growing through the season!