Helen’s guide to growing strawberries

 

Helen Simpson, from the Mushroom Shed, tells you all you need to know about growing strawberries. She has also written articles about growing basil, brassicas, chilli, coriander, cucurbits, garlic, ginger & turmeric, mint, raspberries, rhubarb, tomatoes and lesser known herbs.

strawberryWith the leaves now falling from the trees, some plants will be starting their winter dormancy in a few weeks. Strawberries are one of these plants. This means that it is an excellent time to plant strawberry runners.

Runners or seeds?

Strawberry plants can be grown from either seeds or runners.

Seeds
Growing from seed is time consuming, as the plant can take up to 2 years to fruit. The seed is small, fiddly to handle and germinate and can be hard to find.

However, for those who like a challenge, after chilling the seed for 2-4 weeks in a closed container in the freezer, plant the seed in a good seed raising mix in small punnets or containers. Sieve some of the seed raising mix over them to lightly cover, and then keep moist. Seedlings can take up to 2 months to appear. Transplant to a larger pot when around 3 leaves have formed.

The seed is usually started in Spring or Autumn. The easiest strawberry to grow from seed is the tiny Alpine strawberry and its seed is available from many suppliers.

I have also heard of people picking the seed off the outside of strawberries with a toothpick and attempting to sprout plants from this seed. However, I have no experience with this method.

Runners
The alternative way of growing strawberry plants is from runners or established plants (which have themselves been started from runners). A ‘runner’ is a long shoot sent out from the original strawberry plant, which can itself establish a new plant once it touches the ground.

Runners are available from around mid-May onwards and should be purchased as ‘virus free’ to prevent receiving a diseased plant. Runners have little or no leaves and consist of a ‘crown’ and root system. They are the strawberry plants’ dormant stage.

Select runners which are moist, as this is an indication that they have been properly stored in a cool room before sale. Runners with dry roots may not establish. Plant as soon as possible after you purchase them, keeping moist until you do. Watch out for the formation of a grey, furry mould – wash off if some of this forms or, if badly affected, discard the runner and start afresh.

Plant the runner with the roots under the soil level and the crown sitting on top of the soil. Do not double back the roots when planting – if they are too long, simply trim to around 10 cm.

The most popular way to plant the runners is in zig-zag shaped rows about 30-35cm apart.

Soil preparation and aspect

If planting in the garden, prepare the soil as you would for a normal veggie patch – friable, with compost, manure, lime, etc. However, avoid putting fertiliser directly into the hole in which you plant the strawberries – too much nitrogen can produce huge leaf growth and not much fruit. Mulch with straw to keep dirt off plants and moisture in.

Strawberries can also be planted in pots or hanging baskets, in which case a good quality potting mix can be used. Liquid fertilise every month or so.

Plant in full sun if possible, however some shade will be tolerated.

Pest and disease management

Slugs, birds, lizards and all manner of critters enjoy eating strawberries. This can be a constant battle. Netting will prevent birds, as will growing in hanging baskets or containers on walls where birds cannot easily perch. Nets will also deter possums. Birds can be tricked by growing the white strawberry (more about coloured strawberries below), so they don’t know it’s ripe. Use your favourite method of slug prevention.

Fruiting

Strawberry flowers appear on plants around September/October and plants will fruit from November onwards, continuing into March.

After plants have finished fruiting, you can cut them back to around 10cm – re-planting any runners if more plants are desired. Every 3-4 years, consider replacing your plants to prevent virus build-up and plant in a new bed.

Varieties

Strawberries come large or small, in different colours (white, pink, red), and with different flavours.

The Alpine strawberries are the smallest. Red Gauntlet and Tioga are some older, reliable, commercial varieties, of which Tioga is sweeter and Red Gauntlet less flavoursome.

Sweetheart produces a heavy crop with small, sweet fruit.

The Albion strawberry is a more recent variety which is day neutral – that is, flower buds commence with less regard to day length than for other varieties. This enables more continuous fruit production. The Albion strawberry has a very sweet flavour, so is ideal for desserts.

And finally … how many plants?

One plant is will not provide a family feast – I would try at least 10 plants and some people recommend 30. Of course, this depends how often you like eating them!

  44 Responses to “Helen’s guide to growing strawberries”

  1. Hi there. I live in Northern Vic and have quite a large amount of strawberries. They should probably be renewed or replaced. Hubby has
    suggested trimming them with a whipper snipper. Do you recommend this or should I replace with plants from the runners?

    • Hi Bronwyn,

      In late May, when the weather gets cooler, I would dig them up, trim off the runners and most of the leaves with heavy duty scissors (leave one or two leaves).

      Revitalise the soil in a significant way. Then you can re-plant both the old (trimmed) plants and the runners.

      Unless the plants look diseased – if so, I’d start again with new plants.

      Sounds like this could be quite a job if you have a lot!

  2. Hello Helen
    I’m in Canberra and I have a number of healthy, fruitful strawberries in pots around my garden. I wondered if they would continue to fruit throughout winter if I put them into my warm potting shed. Many thanks in anticipation of your advice.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Strawberries require a winter dormancy to produce well the following Spring, So it’s best to allow them that period over Winter. Whilst I don’t know for sure, I suspect you’d have poor cropping over Winter (if any) even in a warm potting shed, as the strawberry’s natural inclination would be for a ‘rest’.

      Regards, Helen.

  3. Dear Helen,

    Hopefully you’re still there!

    We have been growing strawberries in our suburban drive (we replaced the median grass strip) for four years. It’s been great fun. But the last season was the lowest and least quality yield.

    We’ve pruned the remaining plants though there are still young ones there from runners. What do we do now as I find the various sources of information confusing?

    Do we dig up the bed, plant a green manure crop, and have a go at another site in the garden?

    Or do I add compost, manure etc and try to do something with the existing remnant?

    Or do I dig it up and replant the same drive bed with new plants from a nursery?

    Any suggestions are welcome.

    • Hi Jack,

      Yes, still busy working away!

      I generally recommend replacing strawberry plants about every 5 years, as they can get a bit disease prone and underproductive. Sounds like your time is now … I’d remove them and plant new ones, refreshing the area in a big way with compost and manure as you suggest.

      With the old plants, try giving them a good trim back, plant them somewhere else and see if you can revive them!

      Regards, Helen

  4. Hi Helen,

    I’ve never grown strawberries before but have 3 packs of ‘temptation’ seeds I’d like to try. Can I plant the seeds straight into garden beds outside rather than inside in trays? I’m happy to be patient and wait the year or two until they fruit. I’m west of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road so it’s currently Autumn Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Lila,

      I’ve never grown strawberries from seed either, however start them inside in trays and transplant to successively larger pots sited outside until they grow big enough for the garden. The best time to start seeds is Spring, so you get a long growing period before the strawberries go into their winter dormancy. However, you could also try them now and see how things go. Happy growing! Regards, Helen

  5. Hi Helen
    This is my first attempt at growing strawberries in a large wicking bed at my place of work. They have given a decent amount of fruit (10 plants) for small plants but the fruit is small (large pea sized) and some are quite bitter. Can you let me know what they need to become bigger and sweeter? The garden is in Perth, west facing, and gets both full afternoon sun and sea breezes.

    • Hi Audrey,

      The first thing that came to my mind was the variety of strawberry. Do you know what it is? Some wild strawberries are pea sized with variable flavour. Otherwise, if the plants look very lush, possibly the growth is going into the leaves rather than the strawberries – usually too much nitrogen. Other reasons are lack of water (unlikely if the wicking bed is working properly), crowding of plants, lack of pollination, or lack of sun (sounds unlikely).

      I recommend planting a different variety to see if you get a different result. If not, then it’s likely to be one of the other reasons mentioned.

      Regards, Helen

  6. Hi this my first try at growing strawberries in a couple of planter boxes sitting at the front of my garden. They get plenty of sun but I can pick them up and move location when temp gets in the hi 30s plus if that is advisable. Also, I was told to cover them with plastic sheets for protection. Is this correct and, if so, what is the best way to set it up? Thanks.

    • Hi Patrick,

      Yes, it is advisable to move your plants to places with less hot sun, as the plants and strawberries will burn. Try for around 1/2 day of sun, preferably in the morning.

      Re the plastic (black thick plastic), usually this is put on the ground prior to the strawberry plants being planted, to stop weed growth. Holes are then cut in it, and the strawberry plants planted in the holes. However, a layer of mulch around your strawberries will do the same job, and is much more pleasant on the eye and better for the environment.

      There is no need to cover the actual strawberry plants for protection.

      Regards, Helen

  7. Thanks for your article Helen! I’ve got @15 strawberries (ranging from alpine and heirloom to commercial varieties) in good potting mix on my north-facing windowsill (planted from runners @mid Aug, as too cold outside; am in western districts, 30km west of Geelong). Is it too late to plant them in my veggie patch? What’s the best non-toxic powdery mildew management (have just discovered some white fluff under some leaves and on a few fruit)? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Eliza,
      Plant your strawberries out now, as this is the time for them to start growing. The best treatment for mildew is fresh air and breeze – and not letting water sit on the plants for too long. You can confidently clip off any leaves with the mildew on, and the new leaves should grow without it. Regards, Helen

  8. Hi Helen, I am in The Channel, below Hobart Tasmania but on waterfront. I have a raised strawberry bed in a relatively warm, sheltered, north facing spot with strawberry plants from last year with still healthy green leaves (I removed any yellowing ones) and some tiny fruit on most plants, that have gone into dormancy, not advancing but not dying back either. I started to cut them off but thought maybe they might just be sitting until weather warms and produce early fruit. This is first I have seen this and think you might be right about new variety. Should I cut these off or let them stay on? Also if leaves look new green and healthy should I not cut them back in winter?

    • Hi Liz,
      I’d recommend cutting the fruit off to conserve the plant’s energy through dormancy period, but keep the green leaves – no great harm in doing this. Good luck with the Spring production! Regards, Helen

  9. We live near Warragul – can I start to cut back my strawberry plants now?

    • Hi, Julie. Yes, but I’d wait a little longer – until the depths of winter, when dormancy is more likely. Regards, Helen.

  10. Hi Helen,

    I am located at bayside of Melbourne. I have planted my strawberries in rectangular pots two years ago. And I have enjoyed abundance of strawberries this year. How and when should I thin out each plant?

    I would appreciate your advice. Thank you. Kind regards, Juliana.

    • Hi Juliana.

      Your plants will go into a dormancy stage in a few weeks when the weather gets very cold (i.e. leaves will die off and the plants will cease growing). Once this happens, I’d recommend digging up the plants and refreshing the soil. Then divide the plants – cut off any ‘runners’ (i.e. small plants that have radiated out from the main plant). The runners can then be established as new plants and the ‘old’ plants can be trimmed of their old leaves and re-planted. Don’t be concerned about keeping soil on the roots as you do this. It will be a while before your plants start growing strongly again once re-planted – this will happen once the weather warms up again.

      Regards, Helen.

  11. Hello, Helen, and thank you for your informative site! My husband has just covered my strawberry plants with 10cm of compost, will they shoot through that in the spring or do I need a thinner layer of compost?

    • Hi, Naomi. The ‘head’ of the strawberry plant will need to sit on top of the soil or mulch. So, make sure it’s exposed. Regards, Helen.

  12. Hi, I live near Ballarat and we experience frosts and cold winters. I have some runners that I would like to plant now in April. Should I plant them straight into my garden beds or first into pots? If into the garden beds, how should I protect them from frost? Thanks

    • Hi Rebecca, you can plant them straight into garden beds. The good news is they unaffected by frost. Over winter, they will grow very little (if at all) and their leaves may go brown as they go into a winter dormancy. Their leaves will then grow again in Spring. Regards, Helen.

  13. Hi Helen,

    I am situated on a farm in north eastern victoria. I have built six raised garden beds approx 10×3 feet and 3 feet high. I have about 50 strawberry plants in one bed and they have produced plenty of fruit and they have also produced plenty of runners which I am separating and re-planting for next season. Most I will give to my local community and friends. Is it wrong to re-plant in the same bed or where I grew tomatoes last year even though I refurbish these beds with mushroom and sugarcane compost each year (plus chicken /cow/sheep manure)? I would appreciate your thoughts and advice.

    Many thanks.

    Adrian

    • Hi Adrian,
      They should be fine in your replenished beds where you grew the strawberries last, however I’d steer away from the old tomato beds, in case any tomato virus is transferred. Helen

  14. Hi Helen.

    I have my strawberries in one of the fruit boxes and this is their second year. Over the winter they had so many runners which I left so that the box is now just a mass of plants. Last year there were many strawberries but this year it is mostly leaves. Should I thin the box out do you think? I am wondering if not enough sunlight is getting to them.

    • Hi Jenny, I’m assuming you have no flowers either, which are an indication strawberries are coming. Yes, I’d thin them out, so sunlight can get in. Also feed them with a liquid fertiliser. The good news is there is still plenty of time to get strawberries from them. Regards, Helen

  15. Hi, I live at the base of the Dandenongs and my strawberries are still fruiting, and have lots of flowers. Is this normal for this time of year? Regards, Gina

    • Hi Regina,
      Normally, no, it’s not usual for this to happen as the strawberries go dormant in winter. However, with the newer varieties of strawberries, some have a greatly extended fruiting season – you may have one of these types. Regards, Helen

  16. Hi,
    I have about 30 plants in pots … some old and some runners that have rooted. I’m in Melbourne. What is the best way to overwinter the strawberry plants in pots? Thanks

    • Hi Rima,
      Strawberries become dormant in winter. I’d shake them out of the pots, trim off the dead leaves, separate the runners off and re-plant in new potting mix in your pots. This can be done any time from now, over the winter months. They will need to be done before they start getting their new growth in Spring. Regards, Helen

  17. When is the best time to germinate strawberry seeds in Dromana, South Eastern Victoria.

  18. Hi…
    How to take care of them in winter?

    • Hi Fathi, in winter, strawberry plants go into dormancy and may lose most of their leaves. You can separate the runners off at this time to grow new plants from them if you like. The original plant can be left in place; however, if you want to move it to another spot, or enrich the soil, winter dormancy is a good time to do this. Come Spring, new leaves will appear. Regards, Helen

      • Hi Helen, I’m in the north part of the Mornington Peninsula and it’s the end of June and none of my strawberries are even remotely dormant – some are flowering (alas not really fruiting) and some aren’t but none of them have lost any leaves. Anyhow … I’d like to improve the soil they’re in. Can I apply aged horse manure or will that result in too much green growth? I was planning on adding pine needles over the top as well.

        • Hi Kassey,
          It may be that your climate is not cold enough for total dormancy with your strawberries – particularly if you don’t get frosts – and/or you have an everbearing variety. Assuming it’s your coldest time around now then, yes, I’d enrich the soil they are in now – cow or chicken manure is better than horse manure, which can tend to carry grass seeds through. My internet research indicates pine needles are great mulch – so go ahead with this too. Regards, Helen

  19. If you wish to dig up an existing plant crop & re-plant in a new area (having very few runners due to mulching), can the original plants be freshened up by trimming & splitting & then be re-used? The original patch is now 3 years old. Fine, deep seated, matted weed roots are a constant problem since the time of the original planting.

    • Hi Steven,

      Yes, if your plants are looking healthy then they can be trimmed, split, moved and re-planted. The best time to do this is winter, during their dormant period. If they look unhealthy or diseased, I’d start with a fresh lot. Regards, Helen.

  20. I have been told to remove runners from plants to encourage more fruit. Is this correct?

    • Hi, Anne. If you remove the runners, your initial plant will grow stronger and should produce more fruit. However, if you allow the runners to grow, you will get more plants and hence more fruit from the multiplied plants in coming years. Of course, you could do a bit of both. Regards, Helen

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