Garden Club: How to Grow Your Own Strawberries

Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow at home. Here at the Orchard Training Garden Club we would recommend growing these whatever the space you have to you, as the crop is really lovely. Whether you have a greenhouse, vegetable patch, hanging basket, pots on the patio or even a simple window box, strawberries are incredibly versatile and rewarding to grow.

Now is the time to start planning your strawberries. I am planning, this year, to grow a selection of different strawberries - so we have a little trickle of berries over the season. It is hard to manage a glut in June when learning is so full on and supporting those in school and taking exams.

Once that has been done you can spend time in your garden on world book day reading. If you pop into the library first you can look for books where strawberries (The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood) or where gardening is the main theme (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett).

Don’t forget to write up what you have done in your diary.

How to Strawberries

(with thanks to my local Garden Centres NVQ learners who helped put the following info together for us)

Experience the quintessential taste of summer in your own garden with our step-by-step guide.

When and Where to Grow Strawberries

· When to plant: March / April / October

· When to harvest: June /July / August

· Ready in: Up to 12 weeks

· Suitable for learners under 12s

For a great yield of the best-tasting strawberries, plant in the spring or autumn. Strawberries can be grown in a wide range of soils, from light sand to heavy clay but ideally in well-drained, fertile soil. Strawberries love the sun and prefer to be sheltered from the wind. Avoid areas susceptible to frost and soil that is prone to the disease Verticillium Wilt (where potatoes, chrysanthemums or tomatoes have previously grown).

Preparation Needed

Once you have identified the perfect spot for growing strawberries, prepare the soil by digging over, removing any perennial weeds and adding organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. If your soil is poor then try a slow-release organic fertiliser in the spring.

You can use grow bags for a balcony, or small space if that is all you have.

How to Plant Strawberries

Traditionally, strawberries are grown directly in the garden soil, planted in rows. Place the strawberry plants every 35cm/13 inches in rows that are 75cm/30 inches apart. Plant with the crown at soil level and cover with a net to prevent birds and squirrels eating the fruit.

For an earlier crop, grow strawberries under a tunnel cloche which should be removed when the plants start flowering.

As the fruits develop, place dry straw or mulching fabric underneath to prevent them blemishing or rotting.

How to Grow Strawberries

During the growing season, give strawberry plants a boost with tomato feed every 10 days or so and water frequently while new plants are establishing and during hot, dry weather.

In a heated greenhouse or conservatory, strawberries will flower much earlier provided the temperature does not exceed 16°C (61°F).

You should be able to enjoy crops for three years before needing to replace your strawberry plants.

How to Grow Strawberries in a Basket

Strawberries are ideal for growing in hanging baskets, containers or planters if you are limited on space. This also keeps them away from snails, slugs and other animals who might want to eat your fruit.

As a guide, for a 12-inch basket grow three to four plants to ensure each has enough light and water. When they start flowering, feed the plants every 10 days and continue doing this until harvest.

Growing Strawberries from Seed

If you are over 12, green fingered and a long-standing member of the Orchard Training Garden Club, the next challenge would be to try growing strawberries from seed, this gives you many more options to grow unusual varieties that look beautiful as hanging baskets. Strawberry seeds will take up to a month to germinate with the first fruit appearing the following year.

Caring for Strawberries

Once strawberry cropping has finished, remove old leaves and straw mulch. We recommend you rotate strawberry beds every three years to minimise the risk of disease and damage from pests. Continue to feed and water your strawberry plants well and leave nets off to allow the birds to pick off pests.

As the summer progresses, keep on top of weeding and continue to remove runners and dead foliage. Spread a general-purpose fertiliser around your plants every spring along with a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost.

To grow more strawberries for free, you need to peg down the runners (trailing stems) in June or July while attached to the mother plant. You can fill up a small plant pot with soil dig it in to the ground.

Eventually they will form a new plant, this should be no more than five per mother plant. By August, runners should be well established and can be cut away from the parent ready for transplanting. Lift the pot out of the ground an plant where you are setting up a new strawberry bed.

Harvesting Strawberries

Pick any ripe strawberries straight away to prevent rotting. Plants will need to be checked every other day during the summer period. Check the berry is not sitting on the ground, not being nibbled by insects and are starting to turn red.

The fruit is ready when it has turned red, although different varieties may have slightly different shades. Pick gently to avoid bruising and make sure the green stalk remains with the fruit.

Common Problems to Look Out for And How to Take Action

Birds: Protect plants from birds with netting or a horticultural fleece.

Powdery Mildew which looks like a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface: keep soil moist.

Grey Mould which looks like a fuzzy grey mould on buds, leaves, flowers or fruit that causes collapsed seedlings and shrivelling: Remove infected parts immediately and plant further apart.

Fungal Leaf Spot which looks like purple or brown spots with a yellow ring: Remove affected leaves and ventilate covered crops.

Vine Weevil which looks like notches on the edge of leaves and damage to roots caused by white larvae with brown heads: Apply chemical control as a liquid drench applied to the compost or the biological control, nematode Steinernema Kraussei.

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