Garden Strawberry Plant Profile

Strawberry Plants

Dorling Kindersley: Peter Anderson / Getty Images

The plants we know as garden strawberries are nearly all cultivars of a hybrid plant known as Fragaria x ananassa, which was first bred in the mid-1700s in France by crossing a North American strawberry, F. virginiana, and a Chilean strawberry, F. chiloensis. Technically speaking, the strawberry isn't a true berry with internal seeds, but rather an "aggregate accessory fruit" with seeds on the outside of the fleshy portion.

Garden strawberry is an easy-to-grow fruit that will reward the home gardener with ample harvests for many years. With favorable conditions, each strawberry plant can produce up to one quart of strawberries per season. Garden strawberries produce their fruit from late spring to early summer months, and even into fall, depending on the variety, though they may begin producing fruit in early spring in the warm, southern states.

Botanical Name Fragaria x
Common Name Strawberry, garden strawberry
Plant Type Fruiting perennial
Mature Size 4 to 12 inches tall, 6- to 12-inch spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, rich, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5.8 to 6.2 (slightly acidic)
Bloom Time Late spring, early summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Temperature regions of the Northern Hemisphere

How to Grow Garden Strawberries

Strawberry plants are generally planted in rich, moist soil, spaced 12 to 18 inches apart, as they will shoot out runners quickly. In zone 6 and further north, plant them outside during the spring months to ensure the plants are well-rooted by the following year. It's generally recommended to pinch off all blooms the first year (especially the June-bearing varieties), which encourages the plants to put their energy into root growth. Garden strawberries planted in Zone 7 and farther south can be planted in the fall, and will produce edible fruit by the following spring.

Mulch between plants after planting to keep the soil temperature cool, retain moisture, deter weeds, and to keep the fruit above the soil. Straw is the traditional strawberry mulch. Do not use black plastic, since it will raise the soil temperature and optimal fruit production requires cool soil.

In colder climates, mulching over the strawberry plants in winter will prevent injury to the crowns. Wait until the temperature drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and cover the bed with several inches of straw or pine needles. Be sure to use a mulch that can be easily removed in the spring. Once again, straw is an ideal option. Shredded leaves also work well.

Don't plant strawberries where tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants have grown, as these plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt, which can affect strawberries.

Growing Garden Strawberries in Containers

If you don't have outdoor space for a garden or if you live in an area with soil is naturally alkaline, it might be a good idea to grow garden strawberries in a container that's full with compost-enriched quality potting soil.

Garden strawberries grown in containers can be replanted in the late summer months. Move them to a cool, protected place, like an unheated basement or garage, during chillier months.

Varieties of Strawberries

Strawberry plants are grouped by their fruiting habits. Be sure you know what you are planting because the type of plant will determine when and how much you harvest.

  • June-bearing: This variety produces one large crop per year during a two- to three-week period, usually around June, though they'll begin bearing earlier in warmer climates. This variety benefits from removing all their flowers the first year so the plant focuses energy into producing strong roots.
  • Everbearing: These strawberries do not continually bear fruit, as their name might imply. Everbearing strawberries produce buds when the days are long, which usually results in two main harvests—one in June and another in early fall.
  • Day-neutral: These strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season, but in smaller quantities than June-bearing plants. They don't rely on day length for fruit production, Instead, they form fruit based on temperature—even forming buds when temps are as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when temperatures exceed 75 degrees, production stops. Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries have a longer season of harvest, but the fruits are usually somewhat smaller than June bearers. Day-neutral varieties typically produce only a few runners.

Light

Garden strawberry plants ideally need eight hours of full sun per day but can be planted anywhere that gets between 6 to 10 hours of sunlight daily. If planted in less light, the harvest will be smaller.

Soil

Garden strawberry plants prefer soil that's rich and loamy with a pH between 5.8 to 6.2 for maximum production. Plant the strawberries so that the roots are covered in soil but the crown is exposed to fresh air and light. If buried deep, the plant will rot.

Water

For juicy strawberries, provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Regular watering is especially important while the fruit is forming, from early bloom to the end of harvest.

Temperature and Humidity

The ideal temperature for garden strawberries is between 60 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the plants can tolerate temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as the plant is protected from frost.

High humidity can encourage the development and spread of powdery mildew, so provide plenty of air circulation for the plants.

Fertilizer

Start with compost-rich, organic soil, and apply a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) at planting time, at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet. Fertilize again after the renovation of June bearers or after the second harvest of day-neutrals and everbearing types.

Do not over-fertilize, or you will have excessive leaf growth and poor flowering. Additionally, don't fertilize strawberries late in the season in colder climates, as you want to prevent new growth that will be damaged by frost.

Pruning Strawberries

June-bearing strawberries produce a number of runners, which should be left in place, but everbearing and day-neutral varieties only produce a couple of runners that produce inferior fruit. On day-neutral and everbearing varieties, snip off these runners.

During the first year, pick blossoms off the plants. If you don't allow the plants to produce fruit during that first year, the yield will increase significantly in the second year because the plant spent the time developing healthy roots instead of fruit.

Propagating Strawberries

Strawberries naturally spread by means of stem runners that spread out from the parent plant and root themselves in surrounding soil. As these runners take root, the connecting stems can be snipped, and the resulting plantlet can be carefully dug up and transplanted into a new location. Pinning the runners down into the soil will hasten the rooting process. Early fall is generally the best time to dig up and move these plantlets.

Harvesting Strawberries

Garden strawberries will begin to produce fruit over a period of about three weeks in the late spring, though the fruit will appear earlier in warmer climates. Strawberries are the sweetest when fully ripened on the plants. For most varieties, this means leaving the berries on the plant for a day or two after they are fully colored, though the only way to know for sure is a taste test.

Strawberries bruise easily, so be gentle when pulling the fruit from the plants. Snap or cut the stem directly above the berry rather than pulling on the berry itself. Keep harvested berries in a cool, shady location.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Strawberries are fairly high-maintenance plants, so be prepared for a variety of problems, including leaf spot and other foliage diseases, root rots, fruit rot diseases such as anthracnose, gray mold, viruses, and sun scorch. Common pests include tarnished plant bug, mites, aphids, leafrollers, slugs, nematodes, and strawberry weevils. Birds can devastate a crop, unless the patch is protected with netting.

As with any edible plant, it's best to look for the least toxic solutions possible when treating diseases and pests. Many gardeners resign themselves to the reality that they will always lose some portion of the crop to such problems.

Many cultivars are bred to be resistant to common diseases, so consult a local expert for recommendations on the best varieties for your region.