Nothing quite says “summer" like biting into a juicy, sweet strawberry fresh from your own garden. Strawberries are surprisingly easy to grow, whether you have a huge yard with space for a dedicated strawberry patch or just a pot next to your window.
Why Grow Organic Strawberries?
There's a good reason to grow organic strawberry plants: strawberries are one of the ubiquitous “dirty dozen” fruits—those that are generally ridden with high levels of pesticide residue, even after you wash them. Growing organic strawberry plants ensures that you are getting natural, pesticide-free produce.
Tips on Growing Strawberry Plants
Strawberries need three things to grow well: lots of sunlight, rich soil, and good drainage.
- Sunlight: Strawberries need a minimum of six hours of sun exposure per day.
- Soil: Soil that is high in organic matter is necessary as well. To get your organic strawberry plants off to a good start, clear the area of all weeds and grass, and dig two to three inches of compost into the top few inches of soil. Besides requiring rich soil. Strawberries also prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Test your soil for pH, and then amend it if needed to raise its acidity level. If you are container gardening you can start your berries in the same type of soil—just be sure you choose an organic soil with the right acidity.
- Water: Drainage is important. Strawberries hate sitting in water. They need consistent moisture but will rot if the site drains poorly. If your site has poor drainage, consider building a raised bed.
Selecting a Strawberry Type
When you go to order or purchase organic strawberry plants, you'll discover that they are classified into three types: June-bearing, ever-bearing, and day-neutral. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses and will produce at different times during the season.
- June-bearing: June-bearing varieties bear all of their fruit in June. You can purchase early, mid, or late-season varieties, but all that means is that they will produce some time in early, mid, or late June. These plants grow quite large and develop long runners, so they work well in a dedicated strawberry patch, where their runners can grow into new plants. These produce a large crop all at one time. June-bearing varieties won't produce fruit until their second season of growth.
- Ever-bearing: Ever-bearing organic strawberry plants produce fruit from late spring until early fall. They will regularly develop fruit, but never very much at any one time. The plants stay fairly small and don't produce vigorous runners. With ever-bearing varieties, you'll be able to harvest berries in your first season.
- Day-neutral: Day-neutral varieties regularly produce fairly decent crops of berries from spring until fall, with a fairly large crop in the fall. The plants stay small but produce vigorously. The only drawback is that they don't do well in areas with very hot summers. As with ever-bearing varieties, day-neutrals will produce berries in their first season of growth.
Planting strawberries is fairly straightforward. In your prepared bed or containers, dig holes the size of the football and plant it with the crown of the plant slightly above soil level. Backfill and water your plants in well. Once your plants are in, mulch the beds with straw, shredded leaves, compost, or pine needles. Pine needles are great because they will raise the acidity level of your soil as they break down.
Watch the plants for the first signs of flower buds. If you are growing ever-bearing or day-neutral varieties, remove these first buds to allow the plant to establish itself more before fruit production begins.
A final note on planting: don't plant strawberries in or near an area that is currently growing tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, or eggplant. These plants can harbor verticillium wilt, which can infect strawberry plants.
Strawberry Patch Maintenance
Strawberries don't like to sit in water, but they also need fairly consistent water available to them. This is why well-drained soil is so important. Strawberries require one inch of water per week to produce fruit. They are shallow-rooted, and if the soil dries out too much, fruit production will halt. Mulching, as mentioned above, also helps keep the soil moisture level more consistent.
It is important to keep your strawberry patch weed-free, especially since weeds will steal moisture and nutrients from your shallow-rooted strawberries very quickly. Keep your berries harvested and remove any rotting fruit immediately.
Pest and Disease Control
Happily, strawberries have very few pest problems, but the ones they do have can be a real pain.
- Birds always seem to get to them right before they're ripe enough to pick. To keep birds off of your berries, simply cover the plant or your entire patch with netting.
- To keep away slugs and snails, install copper edging around the perimeter of your bed. Slugs and snails won't cross copper because it creates an electric reaction when it comes into contact with their slime.
- Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease will prevent fruit production and kill the plant. There is no way to control it once your plants show signs of infection. The only remedy is to pull the plants out and start over in a new area. The best way to avoid having to deal with it is to choose varieties that are certified as being resistant to verticillium wilt.
Once you have the organic strawberry plants planted and growing happily, you'll be enjoying the fruits of your labor for years on end with very little maintenance on your part.