Nothing compares to the taste of homegrown strawberries, and those monster things you buy in punnets at the shops are generally a poor (and expensive) imitation. So, why not grow some strawberries at home! Good position and good soil are the keys to successful strawberries. Strawberries are a European cool-climate plant, and need to be treated with a bit of love in our part of Australia. For those of you growing strawberries during the warmer periods of the year, we suggest growing under a little shade cloth cover. This is ‘slip, slop, slap’ for your strawberries to stop the sunburn… they’ll thank you for it! In the cooler months, a nice, warm, full-sun to part-shade spot is perfect.
Planting Time: All year
Position: Full sun – part shade
Water Needs: Moderate
How Long: Dependant on variety, but generally 12 – 14weeks +
Pollination: Most are self fertile, but some of the new hybrid types need cross pollinators – check the label.
Some delicious varieties you may want to grab from the nursery include:
Alpine: There are a number of varieties of Alpine strawberry, all of which bear small, beautifully fragrant, sweet fruit for an extended period of time. Some varieties of Alpine strawberries have a tendency to take over a little, so keep an eye on them.
Chandler: Regularly cited as having the best flavour profile of all the large fruited strawberries. Very large glossy red fruit.Vigorous high yielding, early to mid-season. Not disease resistant, moderate frost tolerance.
Juliette: Very productive with large glossy red sweet and juicy fruit. Australian bred for resistance to our pests and diseases. Vigorous grower and early fruiter – around September in Melbourne, October in warmer climates.
Lowanna: A large sized strawberry borne on a trailing plant, Lowanna can be a bit light on flavour-wise, but is a perfect strawberry for jams and conserves. Fruits over an extended period.
Red Gauntlet: One of the more productive, prolific and drought tolerant of home-grown strawberries, Red Gauntlets can unfortunately be a little bland in their flavour. Try in jams or conserves. An everbearing variety.
Sweetheart: Small sized fruit on a fairly vigorous plant, Sweetheart is a heavy cropping variety of quite sweet fruit, ideal for deserts, salads and tasty snacks.
Temptation: An ever-bearing strawberry, Temptation is ideal for pots and hanging baskets. Sweet medium to largish fruits are borne almost continuously on runner-free plants.
Tioga: Tioga boasts some of the bigger sized strawberries on a fairly prolific plant. The flavour of this spring and summer fruiting variety is sweet and morish!
Toolangi Choice: Despite the name this is a Californian strawberry, brilliant red, exceptional flavour and high yielding. Mainly fruits pring to summer.
Strawberries need a spot with good air circulation. They are shallow rooted and will dry out really quickly in the wind, especially in hanging baskets. They also do well in pots, and this allows them to be fairly easily relocated should the wind get up, or the sun give them grief.
Great soil is the secret to successful strawberries. They need a slightly acidic soil (pH of 6 – 6.5), enriched with compost and manure, and mulch on top. Plant them into a slightly raised (15 – 20cm) bed or a suitable pot, keeping about 20 – 30cm between your plants. This will give them space to grow, nice air circulation and room to run. Mulch well between the plants with straw to prevent fungal diseases and reduce weed invasion. Once a year remove all the mulch for a few days and then lay down fresh mulch – this removes any build up of earwigs and slaters. Avoid mushroom compost and chook manure with your strawberries; it can be a bit too alkaline.
The best way to buy many strawberry varieties for your patch is not in seedling punnets or pots, but as bare rooted runners. Ideally these bare rooted runners should be planted within two weeks. If you are in an area which gets frosts well into spring, mulch thickly over the top until frosts are finished.
Use runners with healthy white roots, removing any crusty old roots and leaves from the crown. Dig wide holes, and make little piles of soil in the centre. Soak the roots (not the crown) for 20-30 mins to plump them up, then gently place the crown on the mound, fanning the roots out over the mound. Back-fill the hole with soil and pat down to firm, making sure the crown is kept at ground level and not buried. Water in well and mulch. Use either a straw mulch or collected pine needles.
If this is all a bit too difficult or time consuming, plant some seedlings instead!
Even in a nice, rich soil, strawberries will need a bit of extra feed (especially the “ever-bear” varieties). Fertilise with half strength liquid fertiliser at about week three, and again when they start flowering. Ever-bear strawberries need a bit more nitrogen than other varieties, so feed them occasionally with blood and bone.
If you are growing strawberries in pots, fertilise them at half strength but up the frequency.
Strawberries do really well with sub-surface drip irrigation. They like it moist (but not soaking) water on fruits and foliage encourages fungal problems . They need regular watering and, due to their shallow roots, can dry out pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on it and water when necessary. It’s not a bad idea to ease up on the watering when you see the first fruits – this will significantly improve their flavour.
Most of us can tell when a strawberry is ready to be harvested, but, if you are after an exact time, it’s not going to happen! Strawberries are very variable, with their fruiting time and length dependant on variety, soil, location, temperature and pest issues. Generally speaking, most strawberry varieties are perennial, and, if renovated and maintained between seasons, you can get a few years out of a good, clean, virus-free runner.
Strawberries are susceptible to a fair range of problems. The worst is a suite of viruses that can, over time, build up and destroy your plants. One tell-tale sign of virus is yellow stripes appearing through the leaves. Plants displaying this virus should be removed and either bagged, or burned. Crop rotation is recommended: move your strawberries to a new bed, with fresh soil, every three years. Strawberries shouldn’t be planted where tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, capsicums or chillies have been for at least three years as, being a caring, sharing lot; they have a tendency to pass on a strawberry slaying disease.
Mould and fungus can be an issue, especially when the air is cold and there is water hanging around on the foliage. The best way to prevent these issues is to avoid overhead watering, and give them a straw mulch. Keep an eye on slugs and snails in the strawberry patch, and, if they do turn up, use a beer trap or two. If you must over head water, then water in the morning, so leaves can rapidly dry out during the day.