Plant: September or April
Harvest: May onwards
Conditions: As sunny as possible
Strawberries are a joy to grow. You can grow them in pots, in the ground, in hanging baskets, in a window box… pretty much anywhere, and before you get gorgeous strawberries to eat you get pretty white flowers to look at. The plants will only really fruit for a few years before they need replacing but that’s not such a problem; they put out runners every year, which produce new plants, so you never have to buy another strawberry plant again.
When the fruits start to appear, make sure you water well and give them a liquid feed once a week or so. You must also make sure that the strawberries themselves aren’t sitting in water, as they rot easily. The best way to do this, and also to avoid slugs, is to put some straw over the soil around the base of the plant
To pick the fruit, use your thumbnail to snip the stem a little way above the strawberry. It encourages the plant to fruit more. If your plant is NOT in it’s first year, then you should also cut the runners off at the plant when they start to appear, as this will also encourage fruiting. When the fruiting is over and the plant starts to dry up, cut all the leaves back to the soil level.
TIP: If the birds always manage to get your strawberries the second they become ripe, pick them the day before and leave them on a windowsill. They go from almost-ripe to ripe in a few hours and they’re just as delicious. Just make sure not to wash them until you’re ready to eat; they last longer that way.
If you already have a strawberry plant, then taking plants from runners is the most efficient and effective way of getting more plants. In the first year of a plant’s life, they only really fruit once and opinions differ on whether you should pick that first crop or not. Whether you do or don’t, they spend the rest of the season frantically putting out runners to create new plants. I grow my strawberries in pots and to get new plants, I put the pot near a flower bed and train the runners over the bed. Once they’ve rooted, I cut the runner off at the plant end and, after a couple of weeks, transplant the new plant to where I want it to be. I tend to root four new plants a year to make sure I always have enough.
Growing strawberries from seed is not easy but it can be done. Plant the seeds in good, fine compost, but make sure you plant a few to ensure success. The seeds struggle and the tiny seedlings take a long time to become the fine plants you’d recognise in the garden centre.
I personally find container strawberries easier to grow. The fruits can be trained over the side so they don’t sit on the soil and it’s easy to protect them from slugs without using straw (I use copper slug tape around the pot). I also find that the leaves provide a fine canopy for the pot and so don’t dry out as quickly as the plants in the ground. Make sure you don’t plant too many and overcrowd the pot, but other than that, water well, feed while they’re fruiting and cut back in the winter.
By moving the pot close to a flower bed (or even placing strategic plant pots full of soil) you can give runners a chance to root.