A favorite fruit in nearly every culture and cuisine, strawberries are beloved for their sweet, juicy flavor and plump red appearance. And though many people cook with them (and eat them) regularly, few have actually considered growing them themselves. Good news: It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to grow strawberries from seed. The plants, native to North America, actually aren’t that picky about where they grow, as long as you can meet their basic needs. Keep in mind, growing strawberries from seed is a process—depending on your location and the length of your grow season, it's possible your plants won't bear actual fruit until the following year. Still, with proper care and patience, you will eventually reap the benefits, knowing you tended to the delicious berries from their very beginnings.
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When to Start Strawberries
Because strawberries are perennials, the plants will come back each year. So taking the time to give them a good start will absolutely be worth it in the long run.
Bareroot strawberries can be planted anytime after last spring frost, or in the fall before first expected frost to overwinter. But when you start strawberries from seed, you’ll want to keep them indoors in the early spring to help them along until the last frost has passed.
December is a good time to start the process of growing strawberries from seed. Before you begin planting strawberry seeds, you'll need to stratify the seeds. This simply means giving the seeds a chilling period in order to help with germination. Place the entire seed pack into the freezer (not a deep freezer) for three to four weeks. After they've chilled, remove them from the freezer and bring the seeds to room temperature.
Sow the seeds thinly, pressing the seeds into a moist potting medium in seed starter trays, and barely cover the seeds with growing mix. Place the tray under grow lights, as strawberries need light to germinate. Allow several weeks for germination. Be patient: seeds may germinate anywhere from 7 days to 6 weeks. Keep the seed tray in temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees. Do not let the seeds dry out. Provide good airflow to avoid dampening off.
Once the seeds begin growing, keep the grow light about two inches above the plant. Light that's too far away from the seedlings cause thin, leggy plants. When the seedling has grown and produced three sets of true leaves (the first leave to appear are the cotyledon, or seed leaves), transplant the strawberries into larger containers. Harden off plants before placing them in the garden or outdoor containers. Plant after last spring frost.
One major benefit of growing strawberries from seed is you can plant several different varieties of your choosing, as long as they can grow in your climate. But a drawback is you likely won't have a good harvest of fruit for a year after planting. Most growers recommend pinching off the strawberry flowers the first year to direct the plant's energy into producing strong roots and a good, healthy plant. Enjoy fruit the second and third year. This is certainly a case where good things come to those who wait.
Strawberry plants can go almost anywhere. From raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens to interplanted in areas that need ground cover, strawberries aren’t picky. They also don’t grow very deep roots. So if you can find a spot for a container of any sort or designate a section of the garden, you probably can put strawberries there.
A few planting site options include:
- Hanging pots
- Raised garden beds
Most strawberry plant varieties do best with lots of sunshine, so ensure that your growing location gets at least six to eight hours of direct sun per day. Also, make sure you've selected varieties that are hardy to your region, and double-check their care requirements because not all varieties can be interplanted in the same growing conditions.
Strawberries can be everbearers, meaning they provide fruit to harvest all season long. Or they can be summer-fruiting, having one big harvest time.
To encourage the best growth from your plants, provide well-draining soil fed with organic compost or fertilizer. Also, adding a layer of mulch around your plants can help to block out weeds that would compete with your strawberries. Pull weeds as soon as you spot them, and prune off yellowed or browning leaves from the strawberry plants. This helps a plant get as much moisture and nutrients to the healthy leaves and fruits as it can, giving you a better harvest.
Many gardeners pinch off the first blossoms of their strawberry plants to help direct the early growth into bushy leaves. A mature strawberry plant will likely be no more than 6 to 12 inches high. Strawberries do best planted around 12 inches apart, and if you're using containers, a few plants to a pot is plenty.
Moreover, give your plants good, well-draining soil amended with compost or feed with compost tea after planting and harvesting, as well as in the fall. You can considerably cut down plants at the end of the season to encourage new growth for the next spring.
As soon as strawberries turn red (or white if that’s the variety you have), you can harvest them. If they’ve gone a bit too long and are soft and mushy, they’ll still be excellent in jams and other cooked-fruit recipes. And if the birds are beating you to the harvest, consider placing a low tunnel over your plants.
By tending strawberries carefully each season, you should be able to get several years of life out of your plants. However, strawberry plants tend to decline in fruit production after three years. Simply snip strawberry runners from the parent plant, and replant them to extend your strawberry bed.
Do strawberry plants need full sun?
Many types of strawberry plants require at least six to eight hours of sun per day. If they get too hot, though, the fruit can get sunburnt.
How often should strawberry plants be watered?
Strawberry plants need to be watered on a daily basis, and require quite a bit of water, especially during the warm summer months and when they're bearing fruit.
Do strawberry plants propagate?
Strawberry plants have runners that stretch out from the plant and produce their own roots. You can clip them off and move them into their own container or within the same garden bed.