Strawberries are the most popular summer fruits. They are tasty and easy to grow even in pots on the balcony or patio. Children find it fascinating to watch the white flowers slowly transforming into juicy red Strawberries.
People have been eating Strawberries since time began. In pre-history they were gathered in the forests and cultivation of the fruits has been with us since the dark-ages. In the 17th century, the wild American forest Strawberry was crossed with Chilean varieties that carried larger fruits. It is from these beginnings that, gradually, the Strawberry varieties we know today came into existence.
Measures for a rich yield
- Strawberries like a slightly acidic, well-drained soil. The roots should not stay wet, particularly in winter, as they rot easily.
- If you grow Strawberries in the vegetable garden, try growing them in slightly raised beds. Divide the Strawberries and plant the runners in new beds every year to prevent disease and provide new plants.
- For a good crop, fertilise the Strawberry beds well by applying fresh manure or dried granulated cow manure in autumn.
- Plant your Strawberries in rows, about 25 cm apart.
- The best time for preparing and planting up a new bed is August.
- It is crucial that the heart of the plant (the thicker, woody part just under where the stalks sprout from) remains just above the soil.
- When you plant your Strawberries, firm them down and water them well. On sunny days, protect the young plants with newspaper. Remove the newspaper at night to prevent the plants drying out.
- During the winter months you can protect the plants with straw.
- In spring, remove the foliage that has turned brown.
- When your Strawberry plants start flowering they will need to be watered regularly. Adding a soluble potassium-rich fertiliser at this stage will encourage flowering and fruit.
- While the fruits are ripening, place a layer of straw under them to keep them clean.
- Although some think it unsightly, more and more gardeners are using black plastic sheeting to help grow their crop. As the new bed is prepared, the soil is covered under a sheet of this plastic, secured with a peg here and there. A cross is cut in the sheeting at 25-cm intervals through which the young Strawberries are planted. The soil must be checked regularly to ensure that it remains moist. The advantages of this method are that the plastic prevents weeds from growing between the plants and that the soil warms up earlier than would otherwise be the case. And your Strawberries will also stay clean this way!
- Alternatively, for really early Strawberries consider covering the plants with perforated plastic sheeting for a few weeks in March or April. This will warm up the soil more quickly, which will in turn speed up the development of the plants.
Strawberries in pots
Strawberries are also highly suitable for growing in pots or planters and the same advice goes for these circumstances. Ordinary Strawberries will grow well here, but hanging Strawberries ('Guirlande' for instance, a ranking variety with large fruit) are a better recommendation for the patio or balcony. In this situation, the following points will be especially important:
- Make sure the pots are well-draining.
- Use good potting compost. Consider using the special Strawberry compost now available.
- Water daily, particularly in the flowing period. In hot weather the pots can dry out in one day!
- Give the pots a sunny but sheltered spot.
- Take the pots indoors for the winter.
Early, perpetual and late varieties
- To be able to pick Strawberries from your garden from early summer right through to autumn, try planting varieties that fruit at different times. 'Karina' Strawberries flower earliest, followed by 'Red Gauntlet', 'Senga Gigagana', 'Senga Sengana' and finally, 'Tago'.
- 'Ostara' and 'Rabunda' are perpetual fruiting varieties. Their fruit is juicy and firm, although slightly smaller than those mentioned above.
- These fruits are suitable for freezing.
Your Strawberries will be ready to pick from the end of June to mid-August, depending on the variety. Of course, with perpetual varieties the harvest season will be throughout this period.
Make sure your Strawberries are fully ripe, that is red all over, before you pick them, and then remove them very carefully off the plant. Always pick the Strawberry with its petals. This prevents the plant from becoming diseased and the Strawberry will keep fresh for longer. If it gets the chance, that is! Because who can resist eating a lovely juicy fragrant fruit straight away?