How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Strawberries

Strawberries are perhaps one of the most popular fruits that gardeners grow in their gardens. Especially novice gardeners. But, there are many different types to consider, and there are growing conditions you'll want to meet in order to have an optimal harvest. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines how to successfully plant, grow, and care for Strawberries in your garden.

How to Grow Strawberries in Garden

There are few things better than a fresh strawberry straight from your garden. Sweet, flavorful, and refreshing, these scarlet red fruits are a decadent addition to smoothies, salads, desserts, or healthy snacks. Garden-fresh strawberries have an aroma and rich flavor unparalleled by any supermarket counterpart. 

Strawberries are an incredible asset for any gardener seeking to lower their food bill, add nutrition to their meals, and plant perennials that keep yielding year after year. Best of all, they are the perfect snack straight from the garden.  

If you’ve been wanting to grow small fruits but feel intimidated by bush berries or fruit trees, strawberries are the perfect place to start. They are resilient, adapted to many climates, and easy to care for.  

Strawberry Plant Overview

Red Berry Plant in a Garden
Plant Type Herbaceous Perennial
Family Rosaceae
Genus Fragaria
Species Xananassa
Hardiness Zone USDA 4-12
Planting Season Spring (North), Fall (South)
Maintenance Medium to High
Plant Height 6-10 inches
Fertility Needs High
Temperature 40-85 degrees
Maturity Date 3 months to 1 year from planting
Soil Type Rich, Well-drained, Slightly Acidic
Plant Spacing 12-18 inches
Watering Needs High
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Lifespan 1-5 years
Pests Rodents, Birds, Tarnished Plant Bug
Diseases Powdery Mildew, Blight, Fruit Rot

History and Cultivation 

Strawberries are perfect fruit plants for any beginner gardener. They are adapted to a wide range of growing conditions and can be grown in containers, hanging baskets, garden beds, or even as edible landscaping. The contrast of their bright berries against deep verdant green leaves is a beautiful sight in any garden.  

Strawberry plants’ prolific yields and low-growing habit makes them a very rewarding crop that is easy to tend. As perennials, they can be planted once and harvested repeatedly. They also continuously create new baby plants via runners. As long as they have plenty of space and rich slightly acidic soil, strawberries will eagerly fruit for years to come.   

Where Does the Strawberry Come From?

Close Up of Ripe Red Berry
These sweet and delicious berries originated in North America.

Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in the world that happen to have originated in the Americas. The wild North American strawberry Fragaria virginiana has been harvested by indigenous people for many centuries. The first records of cultivated strawberries date back to the 1600s when colonists shipped larger strawberry plants back to Europe.  

Later, another variety of wild strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) was discovered in South America and shipped back to Europe as well. Plant breeders went to work hybridizing the F. virginiana and F. chiloensis lines to create modern strawberry cultivars grown on farms and in gardens, which belong to the species Fragaria ×ananassa. 

From Wild to Tame Strawberries 

Wild Berries Next to a Birch Tree
Wild strawberries are much smaller than ones grown in gardens, but they still have a lovely flavor.

You can find wild strawberries growing in the meadows of Montana, mountains of Oregon, and lush forests of the northeast. These tiny wild jewels are highly coveted amongst foraging enthusiasts, but it takes at least 5 or 10 wild strawberries to match the size of a single cultivated one! Yet their flavor is unmatched by any name-brand clamshell in the grocery store.  

Over the centuries, strawberries have been traditionally bred to produce larger and greater quantities of fruit than their wild counterparts. But industrial strawberry farming has become increasingly reliant on toxic fumigants and transport-friendly cultivars at the detriment of flavor and nutrition. The result is often bland, watery strawberries harvested unripe and shipped across the country. They may be large, but they have no remnants of the rich aroma and antioxidant profile of wild strawberries.  

So how do you get the best of both worlds? By growing your own, of course!  

Where are Most Strawberries Grown? 

Ripe Juicy Red Berry in a Garden
Most strawberries in grocery stores are grown on the west coast.

Strawberries love the mild temperate climates of coastal California, the Pacific Northwest, northern Florida, and parts of the Carolinas. Winter and early spring strawberries in grocery stores typically come from southern California. Summer and fall strawberries come from other regions in the northwest, midwest, and northeast. No matter where your garden is, you can probably grow your own strawberries as long as you plant at the right time. 

Propagation 

Strawberries are typically vegetatively propagated (by division or crown) rather than sexually propagated (by seed). This is because strawberry seeds take a long time to mature and are less reliable than crowns. Strawberry crowns are young rooted plants that have been harvested, cleaned, stored, and shipped for replanting. They give gardeners a head start in the spring and quickly begin growing into happy large plants.  

How to Propagate Strawberries 

Logan Hailey holding plant root.
There are several ways to propagate strawberries effectively.

One cool thing about strawberries is that, once you plant them, they tend to multiply quite easily. If you don’t prune your strawberries, you’ll end up with new strawberry plants all over the place. Though I recommend pruning for the best yields, you can also leave some runners to propagate your own strawberry crowns.  

What are Runners? 

Berry Plant With Long Runners
These long stems that seem to be running away from the plant are called runners.

Runners are simply long stems from a mother plant that grow into new baby plants. If left to grow, these runners can root and grow into new plants. This is how strawberries become “matted” into a ground cover in the wild.  

However, because plants put so much energy into producing new plants from runners, they typically yield less fruit. If you want to propagate your own strawberries without risking fruit loss, I recommend pruning the runners of all but a few plants.  

You can allow the runners of the remaining plants to root and then cut the runner from the mother plant (sort of like an umbilical cord) to allow it to fully establish its roots. Then, these new plants can be dug up and replanted in other areas of the garden to allow for proper spacing and promote more vigor.  

Bare Root vs. Plugs 

Seedling Plants in Pots
Strawberry plugs are very similar to seedlings.

Bare root strawberry crowns are the most common method for planting strawberries. This propagation material is exactly what it sounds like: you receive the barren roots of the crowns without any soil attached. These crowns have been dug up from mother strawberry plants, washed, refrigerated, and shipped to you or a garden store. 

On the other hand, strawberry plugs are more similar to the vegetable seedlings you are used to purchasing in stores. These strawberry plants have been rooted in soil and arrive to you in a potted container with soil or another growing medium.  

Planting 

Planting strawberries is a fun and easy activity for gardeners of all ages. Unlike planting seeds, strawberry crowns don’t require as much precision with spacing and irrigation. However, they do require special attention to detail regarding the depth of planting.   

When to Plant

People looking on at a field with strawberries being planted.
The timing of planting is dependent on the variety of strawberries you wish to plant in your garden.

To understand how to plant strawberries, we must first return to the lifecycle of these unique plants. As hardy herbaceous perennials, strawberries die back in the winter and grow back vigorously when the weather warms again in the spring. Though their leaves appear dead, the crowns and roots are still hard at work growing and maturing beneath the surface.  

Strawberries can be planted in the spring or fall depending on your growing zone and the variety of strawberries you choose.  

Some strawberry cultivars (June-bearers) spend the first year getting established and don’t begin fruiting until spring of their second year. Sometimes gardeners will even remove any flowers and fruit from these establishing plants so that they put their energy into the roots. Their patience is rewarded in the second year with abundant flushes of fruit around June. 

Other varieties called day-neutrals will root and fruit in the first year of growth. These are often grown as annuals in commercial production systems. Though they could continue growing in their second and third season, the production peeters off and it is often easier to manage weeds and disease by replanting each year. We’ll cover more details of each type below.  

Northern Zones 

In general, from zone 6 and colder, strawberries should be planted in the spring so that they can establish their roots before the following winter. When planted this way, strawberries can be managed as true perennials and left in place to grow back year after year. In extra-cold northern zones, strawberries will need a deep mulch (such as straw) over the top to keep the roots alive through the winter. This mulch is typically applied after the leaves have died back in the first heavy frosts of autumn.  

Southern Zones 

Southern zones 7 and warmer should plant strawberries in the fall. They will flower and fruit as early as February of the following spring. Mature plantings can be lifted from the soil in September and relocated to other parts of the garden to promote high yields and decrease the risk of disease. Certain varieties called day-neutrals can also be grown as annuals for easier weeding and management. This method is very common in Florida strawberry production. We’ll talk more about the different types of strawberries below.  

How to Plant Strawberry Crowns 

Person Planting a Strawberry Crown
Planting strawberries requires you to understand the basics of the plant’s anatomy.

The hardest part of growing strawberries is planting them. Once you understand the basics, it isn’t particularly difficult, but it requires some knowledge of what you’re doing.  

Let’s begin with the anatomy of the plant: A strawberry crown has three main sections, the top (where the leaves are already beginning to grow or will soon emerge), the crown (the woody center brown section), and the roots that extend downward from the crown. 

You can plant strawberries as bare root crowns or from plug starts. Plugs are the most beginner-friendly because they are already rooted and leafed out. Crowns are more economical and affordable if you are growing larger amounts of strawberries. 

Not Too Deep, Not Too Shallow 
Person Planting a Berry Plant
It is vital to the plant’s performance to plant it in the ground at just the right level.

When planting strawberries, it is incredibly important not to bury the crown either too deep or too shallow. The crown should be submerged enough that watering won’t cause it to float up when watered. However, the crown should never be buried so deep that the growing point is beneath the soil and new leaves cannot sprout. 

Strawberry crowns are susceptible to rot and other pathogens, so it is very important that you plant them as soon as possible after purchase. If a crown has any signs of mold or mildew on it, discard immediately and try to prevent contaminating your other crowns. Trust me, there is nothing worse than planting all your strawberry crowns only to realize a few weeks later that half of them have died due to rot or improper handling. 

Preparing Bare Root Crowns 

Bare Root Crowns Being Prepared in a Bowl of Water
It is best to submerge the roots and not the whole plant when rehydrating them for planting.

When strawberry crowns arrive, you should immediately remove any rubber bands or ties from the bundles of crowns. Loosen the crowns to allow airflow between them and store between damp paper towels in your refrigerator until you’re ready to plant. Bare root crowns are best planted as soon as possible after purchase.  

About 1-12 hours or so before planting, soak the bare root strawberry crowns in a diluted water solution. Just soak the roots and try to avoid submerging the entire plant. This helps awaken them from dormancy and rehydrate the root system before planting.  

Planting Strawberry Plugs 

Three Berry Seedlings
You can go ahead and plant strawberry plugs without much preparation

Strawberry plugs are already rooted like a regular vegetable seedling. They have already broken dormancy and begun growing leaves. You can plant them just as you would a lettuce plug, keeping the soil surface at the same level as the original plant.  

Preparing Strawberry Beds 

Berry Plants With Row Cover
Using a row cover for your strawberries can help keep them warm and pests out.

Begin by preparing your raised beds, planting rows, or containers. Strawberries especially enjoy growing in hills or mounds, so I often use the Hugelkultur lasagna gardening method or simply add a 2-4” layer of compost on top of my beds.  

You can also use standard organic topsoil or potting mix inside a container. Be sure that the pot is at least 6” deep, as strawberries need plenty of space to root.  

Next, use a hori hori or garden trowel to make a hole about the length of the strawberry crown or plug and twice as wide. Transplant strawberries just as you would when planting any other crop. Be sure that the roots are facing straight down and not curled up in a “J” shape.  

Then, backfill the soil and lightly tamper it down to keep the crown at the proper height above the soil (described above). Water in newly planted strawberries very thoroughly. You can use a diluted kelp or fish solution to help with transplant shock and get plants established more quickly. I also prefer to cover them with row cover at planting for extra warmth and protection from pests.  

Spacing When Planting 

Young Berry Plant in Soil
The variety of strawberries you are growing and the size of your garden will determine the plant spacing.

The space between your strawberries depends on how large your garden is and what varieties you are growing. The standard spacing is 12” to 18” between plants, with at least a square foot of space per plant. You can get away with tighter spacing (8-10”) if you regularly prune off runners and maintain the patch.  

If you plan to be more hands-off and allow the strawberries to create a “matted row” system, it’s best to start farther apart with 18-24” between plants and rows about 2 feet wide. 

How to Grow Strawberries 

Strawberries are a beginner-friendly crop for most gardens in the U.S. They can even be grown in hanging baskets or patio containers! There are many different ways to grow strawberries, depending on how hands-on you want to be.  

On one end of the spectrum, they can be managed as a low-maintenance perennial ground cover. This passive technique won’t bear as many fruits as intensively managed plants, but will still yield some nice berries year after year.  

On the other end of the spectrum, regular tending and pruning will yield the most berries in a small space but may require extra time and attention. Either way, all strawberries have similar requirements for light, water, soil, climate, and fertility.  

Light 

Bunch of Berries in Sunshine
Lots of sunshine, about 6-8 hours a day, is best for strawberries to reach their sweetest potential.

Strawberries grow best in full sunshine. At least 6-8 hours of warm direct sun each day will produce the yummiest fruits and most vigorous plants. Strawberries are low-growing plants that have a hard time competing with a dense upper canopy. Ideally, you should plant them in an area of your garden that doesn’t get shaded by trees or structures during the day. Watch how the sun moves over your space throughout the season to get an idea of the solar aspect of your yard. 

If you only have slightly shaded areas available, don’t worry! Wild Fragaria species can be found growing on forest margins and in open meadows, demonstrating their adaptability to different light conditions. Domesticated garden strawberries can also be grown in a slightly shady part of the garden, however, they thrive best in full sunlight like your tomatoes and peppers. 

Water 

Drip Irrigation Line Next to Berry Plants
Drip irrigation systems are ideal for watering strawberries from the base.

To get the most berries off your strawberry plants, irrigation is very important, especially during the establishment phase. Shortly after planting plugs or bare root crowns, be sure that you water regularly until the roots establish. Containers tend to dry out quicker and may need water every couple of days, depending on the conditions.  

The best irrigation system for strawberries is soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Overhead sprinklers tend to cause fungal diseases in strawberries on the leaf surfaces. By watering directly in the root zone, you save water and prevent pathogens.  

Mulching

Straw Mulch in a Berry Garden
Using organic matter, such as straw, as mulch will hold in moisture and keep out weeds.

Mulching significantly reduces watering needs and keeps the strawberries warm in the winter and cool in the summer. My favorite organic mulch for strawberries is straw! They are called strawberries after all!

Straw holds moisture in the soil and keeps fruits off the ground, which ultimately makes for a cleaner, easier harvest. However, be careful when buying straw: it should be seedless (do not use hay) and not treated with herbicides that can harm your garden or your health. You can also use landscape fabric with holes burned in it or dry deciduous leaves as a mulch.  

Soil 

Berries Growing in Soil
Strawberries do best in soil that is well-draining and rich in nutrients.

When it comes to soil, strawberries love a rich well-drained soil that is slightly acidic with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. If you have heavy clay soil, be sure to amend with lots of compost (4” deep) or decomposed leaves. You can also make mounds or hugelkultur-style “lasagna” beds of layered leaves, straw, manure, compost, and topsoil. Strawberries tend to be stunted and stressed in hard clay, so these steps are very important.  

If you have sandy soil, simply amend with 1-2” of compost. Otherwise, you can grow your berry plants in a high-quality organic potting mix in containers. Small amounts of sawdust or pine needles can also be added to help acidify the soil if necessary.  

Climate and Temperature 

Close Up of Ripe Red Berry (1)
Mild, warm climates are best for growing strawberries.

Strawberries can be grown as perennials in temperate USDA growing zones 4-8. They can also be grown as annuals during the cooler seasons of zones 9-10. In a perfect world, strawberries want to flower and fruit in temperatures between 60° and 80°F. If it gets too hot, they will not produce very abundant harvests and weak plants may even die. This is why spring planting in hot areas is typically not worth the effort (fall is a much better option).  

In spite of their reputation as a summer fruit, strawberries are surprisingly cold-hardy perennials. They can tolerate temperatures as low as 10-20°F if they are protected by a deep layer of straw mulch or a row cover fabric. But keep in mind, they can only handle these sub-freezing temperatures during the dormant stage when the foliage has died back to the ground. The plants prepare themselves for this “hibernation” by slowing cellular processes and moving into a dormant state in late fall.  

However, if your strawberries aren’t prepared for dormancy when cold hits, they can definitely suffer from frost injury. If you get a late frost in the spring while strawberries are flowering, it is very important to cover and protect the plants if temperatures dip down below 30°F.  

Tender flowers and green fruit can easily be damaged or killed by the cold, which will greatly reduce your harvests. Anything you can do to buffer the plants against random cold snaps during the growing season will help prevent losses. Most growers use a thick straw mulch around the plants and low tunnels with row cover for the early spring and late fall.  

Fertilizing 

Person Adding Fertilizer Pellets to Soil
Organic, slow-releasing fertilizer should be used to feed your strawberries.

The key to large, luscious strawberries is most certainly properly timed fertility. Strawberry plants put a lot of energy into growing and ripening those vibrant juicy fruits, therefore they are especially “hungry” in the flowering and fruiting stage.  

I’ve found that a generous helping of all-purpose organic fertilizer or diluted kelp and fish liquid fertilizer at the time of planting helps plants get well-established and rooted. Once flowering begins, a weekly feeding of fish fertilizer helps promote more flowers and fruit. Older berries that have already been established usually only need to be fertilized once a year around the time of fruiting or right after.  

But, there is a caveat. You don’t want to feed strawberries (especially June-bearing varieties) too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the spring because it may promote excess foliage growth instead of putting energy into the fruit. Too much nitrogen also can cause softer berries that are prone to rot. The best course of action is simply using slow-release organic fertility like an all-purpose blend, high-quality compost, or rotted manure. 

Maintenance 

Unripe Berry on a Vine
The amount of maintenance you provide your strawberry plants depends on how much fruit you want from them.

Strawberry maintenance is very easy once you get the hang of it. Like I mentioned before, you can be very “hands-off” with your strawberries and just allow them to grow as a pretty ground cover. However, the secret to the most prolific strawberry plants is regular pruning.  

Healthy berry plants eagerly produce offspring all season long. They do this by sending out runners which will root and grow into new baby plants. If you want your plants to produce as many berries as possible, it’s best to prune off the runners so the plant puts its energy into fruit production.  

This simple process involves using scissors or pruners to chop off runners every week or so. Removing runners is the best thing you can do to maintain your strawberry patch. It also keeps plants looking tidier like little bushes instead of matted rows.  

Strawberry Varieties 

There are three primary types of strawberries: June-bearing, ever-bearing, and day neutral. Each of these categories includes dozens of different cultivars with unique flavors, yield potential, and adaptations to specific climates.

They differ in their life cycles and fruiting times, so your selection will ultimately depend on your preferences. I like to grow a diversity of cultivars to spread out my harvest and taste multiple flavors throughout the season.  

Here’s a quick chart that will help you decide and we’ll explore the details of the best varieties below: 

Harvest Preference Best Type
Freezing or canning large amounts of strawberries at once June-bearing
Highest yields, but in a short time frame June-bearing
Two big flushes, one in early summer and one in late summer Ever-bearing
Continuous yields of strawberries all summer long Day neutral
Harvest berries the same year as you plant them Day neutral

June-Bearing  

Bowl of June Bearing Berries
Some of the more popular varieties of strawberry are June-bearing.

These are the traditional types of strawberries that are extremely popular for producing huge flushes of big, juicy berries during a 2-3 week period in June (for most regions). This is ideal for big summer parties, canning, or freezing. However, you won’t have a consistent snack of strawberries from the garden for the rest of the summer. In fact, if these varieties flower at all in the first year, it is best to remove the flowers in order to prepare for a big harvest in their second season. 

The main drawback to June-bearing cultivars is that they usually take a year to mature. If you plant in the spring, they won’t start producing until the following spring. But if you plant June-bearing strawberries in the fall (for zones 7 and warmer), they will be ready to harvest the next spring. The plants also need some rejuvenation each year in order to remain productive season after season. Thinning and pruning are essential for big flushes each year.  

Pros

  • One big flush of strawberries
  • Largest berry size and big yields
  • Abundance of berries all at once
  • Great for fall planting in southern climates

Cons

  • Spend the summer producing runners
  • You can’t snack on berries all summer
  • Shorter lived plants
  • Won’t fruit in first season in Northern climates
Best June-Bearing Varieties 
  • ‘Earligrow’: beginner-friendly, extra sweet medium-large berries, deeply red and cone shaped, great for processing and freezing  
  • ‘Yambu’: very vigorous, excellent flavor, midseason ripening, extra firm and great for freezing, high yields of large-sized berries 
  • ‘Galletta’: early season, fair-quality large glossy berries 
  • ‘Brunswick’: great for home gardeners, midseason ripening, winter hardy, consistent yields, flavorful  
  • ‘Jewel’: highest quality, widely adapted, superb flavor, moderate winter hardiness  

Ever-Bearing  

Large Ever Bearing Berries
If you are looking for more consistent fruit production, ever-bearing varieties are the better option for you.

Despite their name, ever-bearing varieties are not technically “ever-bearing.” However, they do produce 2-3 consistent flushes throughout the spring, summer and fall. These cultivars don’t produce as many runners and therefore don’t require as much pruning. They are also great for container gardens thanks to their more compact size.  

They tend to be the best for gardeners with limited space or for impatient gardeners who want to harvest fruit in the same year as planting. Ever-bearing varieties are best planted in late spring and should be ready to harvest in 6 weeks. Keep in mind that harvests will be most abundant the following year.

Pros

  • 2-3 big flushes of seasonal fruit
  • Do not produce many runners
  • Produce fruit for 4-5 years
  • Moderate sized berries
  • Fruit in the same year as planting
  • More compact plants for containers

Cons

  • First year fruit yields are smaller
  • Lower yields than June-bearers
  • Smaller berries than June-bearers
  • Produce less berries with age
Best Ever-Bearing Varieties 
  • ‘Ozark Beauty’: large berries, high yields in early crop and fall crop, moderate flavor 
  • ‘Fort Laramie’: extra large fruits with scarlet exterior and dark pink interior, very cold hardy, exceptional aroma, firm honey-flavored flesh 
  • ‘Quinault’: adapted to Pacific Northwest, great for containers, produces late spring through fall, deliciously soft large fruits for fresh eating or preserves 

Day-Neutral 

Bowl of Day Neutral Berries
Each plant of a day-neutral strawberry plant can yield about one pound of fruit in a season.

Day-neutral strawberries are the gift that keeps on giving. It may be obvious by now that these are my favorite cultivars because of their high yields, vigor, flavor, and easy growth as annuals.  

Day-neutrals are the product of modern breeding efforts for more commercially viable crops that can be grown as annuals. Basically, they took the so-called “ever-bearing” strawberry and adapted plants to produce regardless of day length (hence the name “day-neutral”). The result is a perfect strawberry for gardeners that produce in the same year of planting and can be rotated around the garden just like annual vegetables.  

These are my favorite strawberries to grow because they produce in the first year and you can snack on berries all summer long. They consistently produce richly flavored sweet berries from June until the frost, at which point I usually pull them out and simply order new bare-root crowns for the following year. This cuts down on your risk of strawberry disease, weeds, and all the trouble of overwintering strawberries in exceptionally cold climates. You can keep them in the ground, but yields are best when replanted each year.  

Pros

  • Higher yields than June-bearing
  • Expect 1 pound of fruit per plant
  • Yield strawberries all season
  • Often 14 or more weeks of production
  • Produce fruit the same season
  • Great for containers or small gardens

Cons

  • Remove blossoms early (4 weeks)
  • Require regular removal of runners
  • Require 1 foot of space per plant
  • Grow best with landscape fabric
  • Need really well-drained soil
Best Day-Neutral Varieties 
  • ‘Albion’: arguably the best strawberry variety for superb flavor, excellent disease resistance, quick growth, medium-large berry size, quality firmness, delicious sweetness, highest yields, deep red color 
  • ‘Seascape’: standard flavor, firm texture, medium-sized berries, consistent yields, most productive day-neutral variety   
  • ‘Portola’: lighter colored fruit, great performance in warmer climates, good flavor, early ripening 

Pests and Diseases 

Unfortunately, there are lots of bugs, animals, and pathogens that love strawberries just as much as we do. The good news is that they can easily be controlled with safe, organic methods that won’t harm your garden or your family.  

Slugs 

Slug on Ripe Berry
Slugs love a moist, cool environment where they can munch on sweet strawberries.

In moist climates, slugs are a major issue for strawberries. They become especially problematic in heavily mulched soil where they can hang out in a cool, moist environment all season long. Slugs cause small deep holes in strawberry fruits near the cap. They also leave gross slime trails on the foliage. Slugs are active at night and require a few clever tricks to control. 

  • Remove mulch or plant debris so they have less places to hide. 
  • Avoid overwatering; water less frequently, instead irrigating more deeply at one time. 
  • Set beer traps by placing cheap beer in a shallow plastic container and nestling it at ground level for the slugs to crawl in and drown. 
  • Use citrus rind traps by placing the rinds of citrus at the base of plants to attract the slugs. Then, dispose of the citrus each morning to keep populations at bay. 
  • Spread diatomaceous earth around the base of plants to microscopically cut the slugs and dry them out. Diatomaceous earth must be reapplied after irrigation or rain.  

Tarnished Plant Bug (TPB) 

Tarnished Plant Bug
These little pests love to munch on seeds, blossoms, and fruits.

This winged greenish-grey or brown insects are oval-shaped and brassy colored. They emerge in the early spring when strawberries begin to bud and the nymphs feed on blossoms and developing seeds. The key sign of tarnished plant bug (Ligus lineolaris) is misshapen, scarred, or warped fruits. The easiest ways to control them organically include: 

  • Use floating row cover over strawberries at planting until the time of flowering (they need to be uncovered to allow for pollination, but can be covered again at night). 
  • Use white sticky traps around the garden and try to identify if it is a tarnished plant bug. 
  • Plant beneficial insectary flowers like white alyssum, yarrow, or dill to attract predator insects that eat TPB. 
  • Use a garlic spray to deter insects or an insecticidal soap to kill plants on the plant surfaces.  
  • Remove damaged fruits. 
  • Keep your strawberry patch weeded; TPB are attracted to lambsquarters, chickweed, pigweed, and dandelion.  

Rodents and Birds 

Magpie Bird Eating a Berry From a Garden
There are many animals that love snacking on strawberries as much as humans do.

Voles, mice, and birds tend to be pretty competitive for the fruits we love so much. There is nothing more annoying than noticing a bunch of ripe berries in the garden, only to find that a small bite has been taken out of each one. To keep these thieves out of your strawberry patch, you can: 

  • Set baited mouse traps around the perimeter. 
  • Keep an outdoor cat to hunt rodents. 
  • Put up a hawk perch to attract predator birds. 
  • Apply carnivore urine (available at home and garden stores) around the perimeter of your garden (not on the plants!). The scent will trick rodents into thinking a coyote or other natural predator is in the yard, which repels them away from your precious berries. 
  • Put a small amount of granulated blood meal (an organic fertilizer) in a can or scatter around the perimeter. This also repels rodents by convincing them there is the scent of a predator.  
  • Use floating row cover or bird netting over hoops to exclude pests from the berries.  

Fruit Rot 

Berries Rotting in Dirt
Unfortunately, strawberries can fall to rot before even leaving the garden.

Strawberries are prone to rotting in extra moist conditions, especially if the fruits are lying directly on the soil surface. The easiest way to prevent this is with a mulch: landscape fabric, straw, or dry decomposed leaves are my favorite options.

I also have experimented with growing creeping thyme as a ground cover beneath the strawberry bed and it worked very well (plus it smells great!). As long as you don’t overhead irrigate, keeping the fruits off the soil tends to prevent fruit from rotting.  

Blights and Fungal Pathogens 

Fungal Spots on Berry Leaves
Humid or moist environments are excellent for fungal diseases or mildews so it is best to keep plants rather dry.

Certain varieties are more susceptible than others to pathogens. If you live in a humid climate, it is important to search for cultivars that have been bred for resistance to blight, powdery mildew, and other pathogens. You should also: 

  • Maintain enough spacing between plants to allow for air flow. 
  • Avoid overhead irrigation. 
  • Practice crop rotation by moving strawberry crops around the garden every couple of years. 
  • Apply a compost tea or horsetail (Equisetum spp.) preparation as a foliar spray to help boost the fungal resistance on leaf surfaces. 
  • Regularly remove any crop debris that can harbor pathogens.  
  • Use certified planting stock and do not plant any crowns that appear infected with pathogens.  

Plant Uses 

Organic berries in containers.
From fresh fruits to use in desserts and flavoring, strawberries have many tasty uses!

Strawberries are mostly consumed as fresh fruit, but they are also very popular in jams, preserves, smoothies, ice cream, and baked goods. Some varieties have large firm berries ideal for fresh eating or freezing, whereas other varieties are smaller and softer for processing. The leaves of the strawberry plant have also been used medicinally by ancient cultures to help with digestive issues, liver disease, and arthritis.  

In landscapes, strawberries can provide excellent perennial ground cover. Their flowers are a great source of pollen and nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects. They can also be grown in hanging baskets as beautiful edible ornamentals.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Do strawberries need full sun? 

Strawberries do best with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. They will tolerate some shade, however, it may result in lower yields or slower growth.

What is the best way to grow strawberries? 

The highest yielding strawberries are best grown as bushy individual plants with runners removed during their entire lifespan of the plant. Day neutral varieties are most suited to this form of growth and can be spaced about 12-24” apart in double staggered rows. Removing the runners ensures that plants have plenty of space and put their energy into fruit production rather than reproducing new plants.

How long does it take for a strawberry to produce fruit? 

After planting day-neutral strawberries, they begin fruiting within 10 weeks of planting. For June-bearing varieties, it can take up to 1 full year for them to produce fruit. Once a strawberry plant begins blossoming, it usually takes 4-6 weeks for fruits to be ready to pick.

Can you eat first-year strawberries? 

First-year strawberries of day-neutral varieties are prime for eating! June-bearing varieties typically do not produce into the next spring after they are planted.

Do strawberries come back every year? 

Strawberries are herbaceous perennials whose leaves die back in the winter, but the roots stay dormant under the soil. In growing zones 4-8, strawberries usually come back every year, however, the highest production often comes from growing day-neutral varieties as annuals that are replanted each year for higher yields.

Final Thoughts 

It is always a joy to have strawberries in the garden! After growing strawberries for the first time, you will quickly understand what they like and how to make them thrive. Though they are a little more challenging than some vegetables, the rewards are abundant and oh so tasty sweet! Be sure to pick and eat ripe berries regularly and don’t forget to prune those runners.  

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