Homegrown strawberries are a billion times better tasting than the hard, rarely ripe, flavorless selection in the supermarket.
Strawberries are cold-hardy and adaptable, making them one of the easiest berries to grow.
While most fruit trees take several years to begin bearing, you can harvest your own strawberries the very first summer. And even if you live in an apartment or small home, you can grow strawberries in a container on your balcony, rooftop, patio or even doorstep.
Tristan strawberry plants feature pink blossoms.
If your horizontal space is limited, consider growing strawberries in a hanging basket or stacked planter, which will allow you to take advantage of vertical growing space as the strawberry plants tumble out over the sides.
There are two main kinds of strawberries - "June-bearing" and "Ever-bearing" varieties.
June-bearing produce berries all at once, usually over a period of about three weeks.
Because of their earlyness, high quality and concentrated fruit set, June-bearers, such as "Allstar," produce high yields of very large, sweet, extra juicy berries in late mid-season, which is usually late spring and early summer, depending on your geographic region. They are the best variety for preserving.
"Ever-bearing" strawberries produce a big crop from spring flowers, set light flushes of fruit through summer and then bloom and bear again in late summer and fall. They are perfect for large containers or raised beds, where you can give them attentive watering and regular feeding.
Bonnie Plants, available at most garden retailers, offers a good selection of ever-bearing strawberries including:
New this spring are two compact varieties that don't produce many runners, making them both perfectly suited for containers:
Timely Tips to ensure strawberry success:
When planting strawberries, be sure the crown is above soil level and the uppermost roots are 1/4 inch beneath soil level. Buried crowns rot and exposed roots dry out. Strawberry plants should be placed about 14 to 18 inches apart from each other in neat rows that are separated by 2 to 3 feet each. Let runners fill in until plants are 7 to 10 inches apart.
Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.
If you want to keep it simple, plant strawberries in a container. Just remember that container plantings need much more water than in-ground plantings, usually once a day; if it's hot, twice.
Strawberry pots are the obvious, best container choice for growing strawberries. You can fit several plants in one pot; just make sure whatever type of garden pot you use has good drainage.
Strawberries have a relatively small root ball and can be grown in containers as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you will need to water.
Synthetic and light colored pots will keep the roots cooler than dark colors and natural materials that conduct heat.
Strawberries like well drained fairly rich soil, so be sure to add compost or other organic matter when preparing the pot or patch.
They need full sun, six to eight hours per day, and frequent, deep soakings. They will grow in all zones and should be fed twice a year - when growth begins and after the first crop. You'll need to feed them a specialized food such as Bonnie Plant Food that has nutrients and growth stimulants that your strawberry plants will love.
Control slugs and snails by handpicking them off plants and prevent theft from birds by covering your patch with netting as the first berries ripen.
Strawberries are one of the easiest and most delicious home garden fruits to grow. Try growing them with kids - plants produce fruit throughout the summer and children will love to pluck them right off the plant, wash and eat. If your kids have yet to plant and care for a fruit or vegetable, strawberries are a perfect choice for their first gardening experience.
For more information on growing berries, vegetables and herbs, visit www.bonnieplants.com.