Strawberries are perennial favorites (literally and figuratively) in most people’s organic gardens. Follow this little guide and you’ll be enjoying your own gorgeous, organic strawberries, too.
Soil: The Base for Great Strawberries
Strawberries prefer light, loamy soil. If yours isn’t, there are some amendments you can add to fix it. It’s much easier to do so before planting, since these are perennials. You can adjust the numbers to suit the size of your berry patch, but this basic treatment covers a 25′ x 5′ patch.
Till in (to about 6 – 8″ deep) 4 cubic feet each:
- Peat moss, which aerates the soil and is great fertilizer as it decomposes.
- Vermiculite, which increases the soil’s moisture-holding ability.
- Perlite, which improves soil drainage.
You can find a well-rounded organic amendment that includes all of the above to make amending your soil simple.
You also should add a balanced organic fruit fertilizer and, if you’re dealing with western alkali soil, organic sulfur. All of this works together to make the perfect soil for perfect strawberries.
Companion Plants for Strawberries
- Aparagus and strawberries are natural interplanting partners in the garden bed. They spread their roots on alternate planes of the soil, and they both emerge from the ground soon after the last frost. These two garden mates use the soil effectively without competing with one another and contributes to nutrient return.
- Bush Beans work well to repel garden beetles and other pests that feed on strawberry plants. Beans also release beneficial nitrogen back into the soil as they grow, which feeds nearby strawberries and boosts their fruit production.
- Borage is an herb that works double duty for strawberries in the garden bed. Not only does borage repel damaging insects, but it also attracts beneficial insects and pollinators to the strawberry patch.
- Catnip deters damaging insects such as aphids and mites from destroying the leaves of strawberry plants. Strawberry plants are particularly prone to attracting both of these garden pests.
Read more about these companion plants and their counterparts here.
Going to Ground: Planting
The ideal time to plant strawberries is the early spring, from the middle of March (after lost frost) to the end of April. You can plant in-ground or in raised beds. Some advantages of raised beds include :
- Protection plants from foot traffic, which also prevents soil compaction
- The soil you just amended stays in one place
- The plants are kept in one area, instead of spreading everywhere
- Plant near strawberry companion plants
- Bird netting can be attached to the frames
Plant your strawberries in holes deep enough to accommodate the roots, making sure the crowns (where the stems start) are level with the soil. As most strawberries are sold “bare root” (no dirt around the roots), you’ll need to spread out the roots and make sure they’re covered. You can buy potted strawberries, but they are more expensive.
Space the plants about one foot from each other in all directions. The ideal berry patch is 5′ wide, which allows you to reach all those delicious berries from every side. Keep the patch weeded and watered enough that the ground is moist. You’ll get berries in the first year, but the plants will produce a lot more in the second and third years.
Care & Feeding
Strawberry plants take a bit of time to become established. During this time, you’ll see big leaves and gorgeous white flowers. The flowers eventually become the berries. The one nutrient most needed for a huge strawberry crop is phosphate. You can buy a liquid plant food or purchase a granular fertilizer specific for fruits. Pour this healthy food around each plant’s base for the best results. Follow the directions on the label for whichever fertilizer you choose.
As mentioned earlier, strawberries spread. They do this by sending out runners and you want to pinch off the runners every week or so to encourage the plants to grow fruit instead of more plants. It also keeps the plants from becoming root bound and producing smaller berries.
Now, if some of your plants die or you just want a bigger strawberry patch, allow a small number of runners to take root and grow new plants. When the new root systems have grown, cut the new plants from the original plants. You can transplant the new plants, now. This is best done later in the growing season as it keeps the new plants producing during the summer.
When growing strawberries, birds are not your friends; they’ll eat every berry in the patch if you let them. You can stop them by putting bird netting over your berry patch.
- Place wooden stakes every 4 – 5 feet to keep the netting off your plants
- This makes it harder for the birds to get the berries
- It also keeps the berries from getting stuck in the netting
- Tack the netting down every 4 – 5 feet
This keeps the birds out and makes it easy for you to harvest by reaching under the netting.
Strawberries are perennials, so you need to protect them during cold weather. This is fairly easy to do. Put about 4 – 6 inches of straw on top of the plants once the growing season is over, but before the first hard freeze.
Cover that with mesh (tacked down), which will keep the straw from being blown away. You can leave some of the straw in place the next spring as ground covering, which will help keep weeds down. Each spring, you should add more fertilizer to keep the soil berry-friendly.
Enjoy the harvest!