“Dirt to Food” columnist Craig Britton grows strawberries in his garden for the first time so that you can, too.

Aside from being the top 10 favorite fruit for many, according to TheTopTens, strawberries are also great for vitamin C and manganese.

But I’m not going to focus on the million reasons why you should grow strawberries (you already have your reasons!). Instead, I’ll tell you how I grew strawberries for the first time outside.

Table of Contents

The Best Way to Grow Strawberries

I will be growing my strawberries at my patch which we just got ready for spring (you can read more about that here).

This is the first time I’ve grown strawberries (previously, I’ve come across them growing completely by themselves in our garden, quite surprisingly). Naturally, like me, if this is the first time you’ve grown something like strawberries (or any other fruit or veg), you should read up a little bit on them beforehand.

We decided to create a new area for our strawberries. Before we could start though, we had an issue—this new patch had a layer of ash on top from wood that was previously burned there. Reading up on soil, ash, and conditions for strawberries, I found that ash could increase the pH level, so the first thing I did was remove the top layer of soil.

Ashy soil

Luckily, the ashy layer wasn’t too thick and underneath the soil was a much brighter color, likely containing clay.

Prepared undersoil

It’s also worth noting that strawberries also grow very well in pots. Pots can help separate your strawberries from other plants that they may compete with for water and nutrients, plus using pots can prevent you from mistaking strawberry plants for something else. If you decide to grow strawberries in pots instead, they should be deep and roughly 6 inches (15cm) wide.

Requirements for Growing Strawberries

Before you get started, you need to think about what your strawberries need. We’re talking about soil, sunlight, and water (mostly).

Sandy loam soil is considered the best for strawberry plants. It’s a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. I decided to make a mixture of my own.

I took a container and added store-bought soil, one specifically for ‘herbs and seedlings’ which contained fertilizer (the little white pieces you see below).

Herb and seeding soil with fertilizer

Then I added some great soil I recently found hidden behind some old, disregarded building materials on our property. It was super soft, nicely moist, and appeared to have some clay mixed with it too.

Fresh soil

Lastly, I added a tiny bit of sand and then I mixed it all together and added it all around our strawberry plants.

Sand and soil

After planting, though, I realized that I needed more soil as I had removed the top layer because of the ash, and so I ended up adding slightly more of the store-bought soil than initially planned.

You’re of course free just to whatever soil you have access to. If you want to get your soil right—particularly if you are not sure of its quality—it’s advised that you test it.

Whatever soil you end up using, it should be moist but not waterlogged.And when it comes to sunlight, the University of Minnesota says that 10 or more hours of sunlight a day is ideal for strawberries.

But don’t worry if you don’t get that much sun—they also say that a minimum of six hours a day is also enough. If you’re not sure how much sunlight your patch might get, maybe spend a day to make sure before you plant them. Pots could be advantageous here as you could easily move them if the sunlight is not adequate.

What’s the Best Climate to Grow Strawberries?

Strawberries grow well in a variety of climates—warm, mild, and cold which is probably another reason they are so popular to grow. Depending on the type of strawberries you have, they could prefer different climates, so you need to make sure you have the right strawberries for where you’re based.

We live in a continental climate with warm summers and cool winters and decided it would be best to plant in mid-April to avoid any chances of frost.

When to Grow Strawberries?

This question is directly impacted by the one above—when you decide to grow your strawberries is completely down to your climate, but most people begin to grow strawberries in spring.

You can also plant strawberries in the fall and many think this is much better than during the spring. As Mr. Strawberry of Strawberry Plants explains, “By planting a strawberry bed in the early fall months, the strawberry plants are able to fully establish themselves and their root system prior to going dormant for the winter.”

This is beneficial because it means when spring comes around the next year, your strawberries can start producing berries much earlier. 

Can Strawberries Be Planted Close Together?

You would think that like most plants, strawberries need a decent degree of space to grow properly otherwise they’ll end up competing with each other. However, supposedly growing strawberries close to each other can be advantageous.

Mary Jane Duford of Home for the Harvest says that keeping strawberries close to each other keeps weeds down and maximizes berry harvest. She recommends 8 to 12 inches between strawberry plants.

I decided to test this out. With our five strawberry plants, I put four on the edges—two on one side and two on the other—and the fifth plant in the middle. Theoretically, the four on the edges could do better, but that said, the plant in the middle likely has the best soil.

Planted strawberry plants

When to Harvest Strawberries?

Strawberries take about three months to grow.

So, for us planting in April, we can expect strawberries by around July. It’s also worth noting that strawberry plants can last a few years if taken care of and you can expect multiple harvests from them over the years.

So don’t assume that your first harvest is your last.If you’re growing strawberries from seeds, you will need to wait longer. Holly Reaney of Homes & Gardens notes that plants grown from seeds need the first year to establish and grow and will not produce fruit until their second summer.

Strawberry flower

Almanac also has some super useful advice for harvesting strawberries. They suggest waiting until they are a full red color, approximately four to six weeks after they have blossomed. Once at this point, don’t harvest all your berries at once, instead, pick every three or so days and, most importantly, don’t pull the berries off the plant—cut them off from the stem to prevent damage.

How to Tell When Strawberries Are Doing Badly?

Aside from the obvious sprouting of weeds in the soil around your strawberry plants (which, of course, you should remove), you’ll need to closely inspect strawberries for a variety of illnesses.

Mary Ellen Ellis of Gardening Know How has highlighted three diseases that can cause mold on strawberry plants—gray mold, leather rot, and anthracnose fruit rot.

Gray mold is caused by excess moisture and looks like a gray fuzzy mold on your berries. Brown spots can signify leather rot, a fungal infection that can appear in warm and moist environments. And anthracnose fruit rot is also a fungal infection that appears in wet and warm environments—it causes circular depressions on the berries.

All three of these diseases are related to strawberry plants being too moist. Proper spacing between plants and drainage is super important in preventing overly moist environments when growing strawberries. Hopefully, the spacing I’ve provided is enough.

According to Does It Go Bad? don’t eat your strawberries if they are signs of mold, they are bruised, soft, or mushy, they start to lose color, or have an off smell.

What Do Strawberries Hate?

There are several plants you shouldn’t grow alongside strawberries. As Karen Darlow explains, “Plants from the brassica family – cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli would compete with the strawberry plants for nutrients” while “tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant (aubergine) may spread fungal disease to strawberry plants”—so, don’t plant strawberries anywhere near these veggies if you want them healthy (arguably, this is more reason to grow strawberries in pots).

North Carolina State University highlights how environmental impacts from pesticides, fertilizers, and fumigation can negatively impact strawberry growth. Though you may not have used these chemicals on your strawberries, runoff from nearby areas can impact your plants, so you must take this into account.

What Encourages Strawberry Growth?

According to an article by Gardeners’ World.com, a great way to encourage strawberry growth is with ‘a liquid high potash feed’, like tomato food, every couple of weeks from early spring.

When it comes to water, strawberries need to be watered regularly, especially when they have just been planted and/or during hot weather. It’s also highly advised that you water them in the morning and not in the evening, so they don’t end up spending the entire night in water—watering in the morning gives them time to dry out during the day.

Conclusion: Planting Strawberries 101

Planting strawberries is not particularly difficult. In our case, we’ll see if the patch we used was suitable enough for our strawberries and if more or less spacing had any benefits. Here are some key points you should bear in mind before you plant strawberries:

  • Strawberry plants love loam soil—a mixture of sand, clay, and slit and need at least six hours of sunlight a day.
  • Strawberries can grow in a variety of climates, but some have preferences.
  • Typically, people plant their strawberry plants in spring, but you can get ahead by planting in the fall.
  • Excess moisture and humid conditions can lead to a variety of diseases in strawberry plants—make sure you have adequate drainage.Thoroughly inspect your plants to be sure they are healthy.
  • Don’t grow strawberry plants near any member of the brassica family, tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants.

Ask Craig a Question

“Dirt to Food” is Craig Britton’s column on home gardening and growing your own food. Ask Craig a gardening question by sending us an email at youasked@homecookworld.com.