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 actually 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… morning sun with protection from the afternoon rays.
Planting Time: All year
Position: Full sun – part shade
Water Needs: Moderate
How Long: Dependant on variety, but generally 12 – 14weeks +
Some delicious varieties you may want to grab from the nursery include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tioga: Tioga boasts some of the bigger sized strawberries on a fairly prolific plant. The flavour of this summer fruiting variety is sweet and morish!
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.
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 (which is, incidentally, a great method of growing strawberries). 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 acid soil (pH of 6 – 6.5), with loads of compost, some well-rotted manure (worm and cow is good) and a lovely thick mulch layer. Plant them into a slightly raised bed (about 15 – 20cm) 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 a lovely straw to prevent fungal diseases and reduce weed invasion.
Avoid mushroom compost and chook manure with your strawberries; it can be a bit too alkaline for their discerning tastes. Generally, it is best to prepare beds for strawbs about a month or two in advance, as this will ensure a deep, rich, beautiful soil, chock full of humus and raring to go. Two weeks before planting, pull back the mulch a bit, and water the soil with a seaweed tea. Seems like a bit of work, but it’s well worth it at harvest time!
The best way to buy many strawberry varieties for your patch is not in seedling punnets or pots, but as runners purchased from the nursery. These runners are certified disease and virus free, and are always fresh stock (not old or last year’s).
There is an art to planting strawberry runners, and, with all things gardening (and life), practice makes perfect. Use runners with healthy white roots, removing any crusty old roots and leaves from the crown. Dig some nice wide holes, and, in the centre, pop a little pile of soil. Then, gently place the crown on the soil, fanning out the roots over the mound. Sounds complex, but think lava running down a volcano (or chocolate topping on ice-cream) and you’ll get some idea of the desired result. Back fill the hole with soil and firm, making sure the crown is kept at ground level and not buried. Water in well and mulch, avoiding the sensitive stems. 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 a feed (especially the “ever-bear” varieties). Fertilise with a weak manure tea at about week three, then a full strength seaweed tea when they start flowering. This will give them a good feed, and the seaweed solution does wonders in preventing fungal infections. 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 the strength but up the frequency.
Strawberries do really well with sub-surface drip irrigation. They like it moist (but not soaking) and hate water on their fruits and foliage (it causes bad things like fungus to happen). 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 darned important with strawbs, and it is recommended that you move your strawberries to a new bed, with fresh soil, every three years. Strawberries shouldn’t be planted where tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums or chillis 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 great straw mulch (they are called “straw”berries after all!). Keep an eye on slugs and snails in the strawberry patch, and, if they do turn up, use a beer trap or two.